Lightyear review: ‘A frustratingly slow, melancholy drama’


After what seems like hours, he returns from one of his test flights to find that the colonists’ ship has been besieged by the robotic stormtroopers of the Darth Vader-like Emperor Zurg (voiced by James Brolin). He meets a tediously zany band of clueless rebel soldiers (voiced by Taika Waititi, Keke Palmer and Dale Soules), and together they plan to fly up to Zurg’s hovering mothership. But then Buzz’s shuttle craft is damaged, too, and he has to locate another crucial component to fix it. At this point, the viewer will come to the stomach-sinking realisation that Lightyear has two plots – and they’re both about the hero getting hold of a spare engine part. To use that mundane plot once, as Star Wars: The Phantom Menace did, may be regarded as a misfortune; to use it twice looks like carelessness.
Bear in mind that this is a Pixar film, so of course the animation is hard to fault, and of course it has some ambitious philosophical concepts. But considering how proud the studio is of its engaging characters and machine-tooled storytelling, it’s amazing that Lightyear has such an obviously sloppy screenplay. The story is thin, repetitive, and almost entirely dependent on the heroes being clumsy. (The closing credits are excruciatingly slow, a sure sign that the producers wanted the film to appear longer than it is.) And the characterisation is weirdly vague, as if the writers meant to fill in the gaps later, but never got around to it. There is a grand total of three interchangeable, annoyingly unhelpful robots. Zurg is hidden away until the last reel. His faceless minions are, well, faceless minions. And we hardly glimpse the lives of the colonists, so we have no investment in what Buzz and his bumbling friends are hoping to achieve.
What we’re left with is a few neurotic misfits pottering around a barren desert, making a hash of things. They learn about the value of teamwork over and over again, and then they learn that family life is an adventure in itself, a lesson which was a lot more moving when it was taught in Pixar’s Up back in 2009. Is this dreary ordeal really what anyone had in mind when they first heard the phrase “To infinity – and beyond”? Whatever escapades young Andy imagined in 1995 when he was playing with his Space Ranger toy, they were bound to be more fun than this one.
★★☆☆☆
Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.