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"a rollicking good time"

★★★★½ - STUFF 

- With the script its most special effect, Pixar deliver a terrific Buzz - 

Lightyear opens with a simple credit, which says something like – "In 1995, a boy named Andy was given a new toy based on his favourite film. This is that film”.

And from that simple, elegant and hopefully foolproof premise, making clear its place in the Toy Story universe, a pretty darned good film has been made.

By laying out their intentions and their guiding principles – their kaupapa – so transparently, the makers of Lightyear are asking us to judge the film on the possibility that, had it been around in 1995, Lightyear could really have been a seven-year-old boy's favourite film. And I reckon that's credible.

Lightyear introduces us to the “real” Buzz, not the toy. The vocal duties are handed over to Chris Evans (Captain America), who does a fantastic job of channelling a young Tim Allen (the voice of the Buzz Lightyear toy in the movies), but who also brings the freight of his own career of being exactly the sort of blue-eyed superhero type that you would cast, if you were making a live-action Buzz Lightyear movie today. I may be overthinking this, but the meta-excellence of Evans’ casting here really delighted me.

Buzz is a Space Ranger, voyaging to some distant place, when an unknown planet is spotted. Buzz and a small team – his mentor and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) and a probably doomed rookie, are dispatched to take a look around. It's a set-up straight out of nearly every episode of Star Trek. A fact that Lightyear mocks mercilessly by having Buzz describe everything into his wrist-recorder, Captain Kirk-style, only for Hawthorne to ask him: "Are you narrating again?"

It's a good gag. But Lightyear has plenty more of them to come.

Disaster intervenes – and Buzz is the only pilot who can get the crew home. But first, he has to test-fly a new engine that can boost their broken spaceship back into hyperspace. The test flights have unintended consequences – if you have seen Interstellar, you'll see it coming – and soon enough, Lightyear briefly becomes a movie with some unhinted-at poignancy and profundity.

It's moments like this, when we remember why Pixar are just so much better at this than everyone else in the game. There may be a dozen or more digital effects companies in the world that could make a film that looks like this. But only Pixar seem to have access to the writers who can make a child-friendly hoot like Lightyear, abruptly become so human, vulnerable and piercing.

This is the same company who made me cry in the first 15 minutes of Up. And then did it again with the last 15 minutes of Toy Story 3. And just as Up and Toy Story 3 are also kids’ classics, which any savvy seven-year-old could enjoy - and even declare his “favourite film”, so Lightyear ticks every box we need it to, but still knows how to present mortality and loss in a way that you might find quite indelibly lovely.

From that glorious opening act, Lightyear rockets onwards to become a rollicking good time and a whole pile of fun. But, being built on a foundation of human connection and earned emotion, it maintains its narrative strength, even when the action must occasionally slow down.

With Evans superb in the lead, Keke Palmer (Hustlers), Taika Waititi, Dale Soules (Orange Is The New Black) and James Brolin – father of Josh (a nice touch) – as the “evil Emperor”, Lightyear is not short of vocal talent. While the animation, design and pace of this film are as good as any sci-fi adventure I have seen in years.

But, as always with Pixar, it is that script and the filmmaker's courage, to go where it needs to, that lifts Lightyear somewhere a lot higher than I might have been expecting. Even to infinity – and beyond.

- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF

Lightyear is now playing at Light House Cinema!


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