Lightyear is currently playing in theaters.
By Zachary Greenberg
To infinity and… a 5.3 rating on IMDb? Originally released earlier in June, Lightyear was expected to gross between $70 – $85 million with some experts predicting as high as $105 million in its opening weekend. After all, Toy Story 3 and 4 both grossed over $110 million during their opening weekends. However, Lightyear only opened to a relatively pedestrian $50.6 million. To make matters worse, in its second week, it dropped off 64.1% to $18.2 million, the second-worst sophomore dropoff in Pixar history after only Onward (2020) which declined by 73%, on the onset of a global pandemic.
This is most unusual for a Pixar film. They generally succeed at the box office and have good user ratings on IMDb. In fact, each of the four Toy Story films has an IMDb rating between 7.7 – 8.3. You can’t even blame COVID as a factor for the crummy box office for Lightyear since two weeks later, Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) opened to an astounding $123.1 million over its first four days, surpassing initial projections of $70-$80 million.
What could have caused such a sharp difference here? Surely Lightyear must be a horrific film, right?
Recently, I went with my wife and one of our couple friends to see Lightyear and went in with bleak expectations. Boy was I wrong. I was beyond impressed with the plot, animation, and pacing of the film.
The premise of the movie was that this was a meta-film within the Toy Story franchise. This was supposedly the movie that Andy, from the original Toy Story movies, watched, and thus started his obsession over his favorite action figure, Buzz Lightyear.
Warning: spoilers follow!
The film begins with Buzz (Chris Evans) accidentally crashing his ship “The Turnip,” stranding hundreds of crewmembers on the hostile planet, T’Kani Prime. One year later, Buzz is tasked by his commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) to test out the new hyperspace fuel in hopes of getting everyone off the planet. Buzz goes out for a test run but fails to reach hyperspeed which would have allowed them to leave the planet. Upon his return, Buzz discovers that while he was doing the test flight, 4 years had passed on T’Kani Prime due to time dilation.
Feeling it was his responsibility to get everyone off the planet, Buzz decides to try over and over again to test out the hyperspace fuel until it reaches hyperspeed. In the process, all of his friends and comrades die of old age and Buzz becomes a relic of a forgotten time. In the theater, I teared up as we watched the final hologram of commander Alisha saying goodbye to Buzz. Buzz’s famous catchphrase “To Infinity and Beyond” now carries a lot more meaning as it was Alisha’s parting words to him.
Eventually, Buzz with the help of his new pet robot Sox figures out the right measurements for hyperspace fuel, and successfully reaches hyperspeed. But upon his return, he faces a lot of issues since the evil Emperor Zurg showed up while he was in Space for 22 years due to time dilation, and was attacking the civilians. Buzz forms a rebellion with a misfit team of crewmembers, including Alisha’s granddaughter, Izzy. Ironically Izzy happens to be scared of space despite the fact that her grandmother was a famous Space Ranger. Buzz gets captured by Zurg, who reveals himself to be an alternate, older version of himself who was bent on stealing the hyperspace fuel for himself to go back in time and stop the crash from happening. Realizing that would mean that all of the current civilians on T’Kani Prime, including Izzy, would cease to exist, Buzz fights his alternate self.
Buzz and his rag-tag team defeat Zurg by blowing up his ship and then they return home to their planet. Burnside, the leading commander on T’Kani Prime who originally did not support Buzz’s mission of testing the hyperspace fuel, changes his tune after seeing Buzz defeat Zurg and promotes Buzz to the head of the new Space Ranger Corps. Buzz selects his rag-tag team to be a part of his squadron. In a post-credits scene, we see the Zurg robot’s lights flicker on, indicating that the alternate Buzz might not be dead. This sets up nicely for a sequel movie.
Two of the main complaints which led to Lightyear performing poorly at the box office and having a low IMDb rating were the fact that Tim Allen, the voice of the original Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story films, was not cast to voice Buzz in Lightyear and the fact that there was a kiss between two women.
Personally, I loved the casting choice of Chris Evans as Buzz. Evans, famous for starring as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has both suave and charisma. That is perfect for his role in Lightyear in which Buzz is supposed to be a cool astronaut. Casting Tim Allen would not have made as much sense to cast for this film. He played Buzz “the toy” who was just an action figure. Evans was playing Buzz “the astronaut” who the toy was based on and therefore is an entirely different entity.
Regarding the kiss, I think the controversy was way overhyped and was not anything to be exasperated over. In fact, I actually did not even see the kiss occur – it must have been in the background or happened so quickly that I missed it. Whether or not you agree that the scene should have been included, it was such a fleeting and barely noticeable detail in the movie and it should not have been a factor that caused so many people to give the movie a low rating.
The reason it has such an abysmal rating on IMDb is due to the fact that out of the 42,000 votes, nearly 17,000 people (just over 40%) of the reviews gave the film 1 out of 10 stars. Many of those 1-star reviews are from people who were angry for one of the two reasons above. Taking out those 1-star reviews, the film likely would have received a score over 7.0 since over 35% of people (meaning over 63.6% of reviews excluding the 1-star reviews) gave it a rating above 7-stars.
In my opinion, at this point Lightyear is a heavily underrated film in the Pixar franchise. Telling time-traveling stories can be quite challenging to portray without confusing the audience or making it appear too messy. Pixar perfectly weaved their story to make the time travel plotline not only easy to follow, but it added a lot of emotional weight to the story. It was sad and inspiring to see Buzz miss out on living with the people of his generation to try and help the future generation leave the planet.
In some Pixar films, the comic relief character could be annoying, useless, and not that funny, such as Heimlich in A Bug’s Life (1998) and Gerald in Finding Dory (2016). In Lightyear, Sox was the opposite of those traits. All of his lines were hysterical and he played a pivotal role in helping Buzz achieve hyperspeed. Sox added great comic relief at the perfect moments.
I happen to love sci-fi films and this was easily the best animated one I have ever seen. The fight scenes were tense and fast-paced. There were lasers, menacing spaceships, and battle robots which made it feel like a Star Wars film.
My favorite theme of the movie was the nature vs nurture conflict within Buzz himself. On the one hand, Buzz is a hero who is selfless and willing to give up his life (or at least a life with the people he knows) for the greater good of getting them off the planet. On the other hand, under different circumstances in an alternative timeline, that same Buzz became the Evil Emperor Zurg. This clearly shows that the environment that one is placed in can lead to very different outcomes. I took away the life lesson that it is imperative to make smart choices and place yourself in circumstances where you can succeed. Because even if by nature you are good, the wrong environment can often lead to disastrous results.
The main complaint I have about the movie was that I wish they embraced the meta-aspect within the Toy Story franchise more. Not showing Andy in the film and merely mentioning Andy’s name in an opening slide was a poor choice. I would have liked to see Andy show up at least once, perhaps showing him turn on or off the TV. This would have connected it well with the beloved Toy Story films which I, and I am sure many, fans would have appreciated.
Overall, I highly recommend you give Lightyear a watch. It is an amazing addition to the Pixar collection and a phenomenal sci-fi film. I can’t wait to rewatch it once it gets added to Disney+.
I give Lightyear a B+.