After the recent disappointment of watching Pixar’s latest releases on the small screen, it’s great to see one back in its natural home – but my delight is somewhat dulled by the fact that this is a prequel to their super-successful Toy Story franchise. What’s more, what’s happened to the practice of showing a new short film before every feature? I hope that returns.
The film begins with a title card reminding us that, in the original story, Buzz Lightyear was an action-figure inspired by a movie, and we are about to watch that movie.
Here, Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans, replacing Tim Allen for no explicable reason) is a Space Ranger in Star Command, who, when we first encounter him, is exploring habitable planet T’kani Prime with his commander, Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) – but his miscalculation while trying to escape the hostile life-forms that live there leaves him marooned, along with the huge crew aboard his ship. The only possible method of escape requires Buzz to fly at hyperspeed, something he repeatedly tries to do, but each trip he makes means that, though he remains the same age, everybody else ages by years.
The film’s early stages are expertly piloted, alternating suspenseful skirmishes and cliffhangers with moments of real poignancy and, needless to say, the animation throughout is sumptuous. As ever there are some wonderful characterisations here. ‘Empathy feline robot’ Sox (Peter Sohn) is a particular delight, and the fact that Alisha is gay and that she and her partner have a child is so perfectly handled, I start to think that we’re on a perfect trajectory for another Pixar triumph.
But around the halfway stage, a mysterious villain called The Emporer Zurg (James Brolin) arrives on T’kani with battalions of Zyclops robots under his command, while Buzz finds himself reluctantly teaming up with Alisha’s daughter, Izzy (Keke Palmer). Suddenly everything starts to feel much more generic and, it must be said, far too complicated for its own good. If I struggle with the labyrinthine twists of the timey-wimey adventures that ensue, God only knows what the battalions of school kids occupying the front row seats make of them.
There’s an interesting reveal towards the film’s conclusion but, by this time, too much impetus has been lost to save the project. This is a shame, because that first half demonstrates that the team at Pixar can make the most inauspicious vehicle fly, even if – as in this case – they can’t make it stay the distance.