In 1995, we met a boy named Andy and his two favorite toys: Woody and Buzz Lightyear. The latter, of course, was the star of Andy’s favorite movie. “This,” Lightyear tells us before the story commences, “is that movie.”
In uncharted space, 4.2 million light years from Star Command, Buzz and his fellow Space Ranger Commander Alisha Hawthorne detect lifeforms on an uncharted planet.
Think they’re going to just fly by? Are you kidding?
After landing on the planet, the two of them—joined by a nameless, wide-eyed rookie recruit—set off to explore the swampy, vine-entangled world. “Rookies don’t help,” Buzz grouses. “They overcomplicate things.”
Still, Buzz isn’t one to miss a teachable moment. And as they step out onto the planet’s surface, Buzz reminds our anonymous young recruit what it means to be a Space Ranger: “Respect the suit. Protect the universe. Finish the mission—no matter the cost.”
That’s about five seconds before wildly aggressive plants erupt from the planet’s innards and everything goes haywire. The vines almost drag our intrepid trio to doom nearly pull their ship—filled with 1,200 crewmembers—into the muck as well.
But Buzz Lightyear’s not about to stopped by a bunch of vines. Not on a good day, anyway. Then again, today’s not a good day for Buzz. Refusing the rookie’s help, Buzz leaps back on the craft and pulls back on the ship’s stick as hard as he can, trying desperately to get safely airborne.
It’s not enough: The enormous craft clips a cliff … and crashes.
Our heroic Space Ranger is utterly determined to “finish the mission—no matter the cost.” But he’s got an important lesson to learn: Sometimes, you can’t finish the mission all by yourself, no matter how many years you give it your all.
Especially when evil robots show up.
Lightyear quickly shows that Buzz’s defining character trait—his indefatigable determination to solve problems and to rectify a terrible mistake—is also his biggest character flaw. Buzz will go to any length to right a wrong he’s committed. But depend on others for help? Well, that’s a lesson he learns very slowly.
Once Buzz and his cohorts settle into the reality that they’re marooned on a dreadfully organic planet (those nasty vines keep grabbing people), they set about brainstorming a way to repair their starship. That involves re-engineering a special hyperspeed fuel that Buzz alone keeps testing in small, fighter-like spacecraft aboard the mothership. So far, so good.
But with each attempt Buzz makes to test the fuel, Einsteinian physics kick in. Though Buzz approaches lightspeed for only a few minutes, years are passing back on the unnamed planet where his compatriots are shipwrecked. “Time dilation,” it’s called, an escapable reality, we’re told, of lightspeed physics.
In his final test run, some 62 years pass back on the planet. Buzz returns to find a whole new generation hunkered down under a laser shield and under assault from the robot minions of someone called … Emperor Zurg.
To repel them, Buzz will have to depend on the ability of a ragtag outpost of Space Ranger trainees stranded at a remote base near where Buzz crash lands: Izzy Hawthorne (his original Space Ranger partner’s granddaughter), Darby Steel (an elderly woman with a penchant for blowing things up) and Mo Morrison (a soft-spoken man ill-equipped for the rigors of being a soldier). Finally, Buzz has an intrepid “pet” cat, a robot named Sox, whose myriad abilities help keep the story moving forward as well.
Buzz, as noted, never lacks in the courage department. But gradually, his motley crew of trainee teammates helps him realize that he can’t do everything alone. And they exhibit plenty of courage and a willingness to sacrifice along the way, too.
A bigger question the movie asks ultimately revolves around how much we strive to change our circumstances and how we sometimes need to make peace with reality—even if that looks different than we’d hoped.
After one of Buzz’s hyperspeed testing runs, he returns to find that Alisha Hawthorne has gotten engaged. “What’s her name?” Buzz asks, implying that Alisha’s same-sex attraction has never been a secret to Buzz or anyone else. Her name, Alisha says, is Kiko. Later, we see the two women kiss to celebrate their 40th anniversary.
Even though Buzz laments the fact that everyone on the ship is marooned because of his mistake, Alisha tells him, “I wouldn’t have met [Kiko] if we hadn’t gotten stranded.”
After one of Buzz’s next testing runs, he returns to find that Alisha is quite visibly pregnant. How Alisha is pregnant, given the fact that she’s married to a woman, is never explained.
Buzz’s last testing trip, as noted, correlates to more than six decades of time passing back on the planet, skipping an entire generation. We then meet Izzy Hawthorne, granddaughter of Alisha, who refers glowingly to her “two grandmas.”
I’ll return to some of the important implications of this same-sex relationship in the Conclusion.
Zurg and his robotic lackeys pursue Buzz and Co. for much of the movie. Myriad shootouts result in discombobulated robots and near misses to Buzz’s crew.
Robot appendages get blown off. Spacecraft battle and crash. Explosions and pursuit abound. Characters get temporarily swallowed up by vines that pull them below the planet’s surface.
All of this action has a very Star Wars-lite kind vibe to it. That said, Zurg and his menacing robots do have an ominous frowning red visage. Young or very sensitive children could be frightened by some of the more tense pursuit scenes.
We hear one use of the exclamation, “Shoot.”
When Buzz points his finger at Izzy and says, “To infinity and beyond,” she has no idea what he’s doing and asks, “Do you want me to pull your finger?” There are some gags about Mo needing to use a space sickness bag. “Do not vomit inside the vehicle,” Buzz warns him sternly.
As the story’s timeline stretches into many decades, new leadership isn’t interested in Buzz finishing his mission. But Buzz steals a ship to try to make it happen anyway.
If I were going to title this review conclusion, I’d call it, A Tale of Two Lightyears.
On one hand, Lightyear is exactly what we’d expect from the creative gang at Pixar who brought us Toy Story nearly three decades ago. Not only does this prequel deliver a rollicking sci-fi origin story, it winks lovingly at many classic films from the genre along the way. Older fans will smile at nods to films such as 2001, The Black Hole, Wall*E, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Apollo 13 and—of course—Toy Story.
Along the way, Lightyear tells an engaging, satisfying story about the fine line between determination and learning to accept others’ help. We’re also challenged to see that even when we think we’ve made irreparable, horrible mistakes, good can still come of them—even if that doesn’t look like what we’d initially planned.
Toilet humor and faux swear words are at a refreshing bare minimum here. The robots’ menacing gazes are almost the only thing, really, that might give parents of sensitive young ‘uns pause.
I wish that I could end my review here. But, alas, I cannot.
Earlier this year, controversy erupted in Florida when the state passed a law prohibiting teaching about LGBT issues to public school children from kindergarten to third grade. The law quickly came under fire from many in Hollywood and in left-leaning political circles. Pressure mounted on Disney to make a statement, since the company’s iconic theme park Walt Disney World resides in Orlando, Florida.
Disney didn’t initially respond. But according to multiple reports, Pixar reinstated a same-sex kiss in the film in response to the Florida law, using a film to comment on the political and cultural conversation and controversy about LGBT representation. Deadline.com’s Dade Hayes writes:
“Pixar was one of the loudest voices criticizing Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the Florida bill, and said in a letter leaked to the press that the company had suppressed same-sex elements in Pixar projects.”
In recent years, we’ve witnessed growing inclusion of LGBT characters in movies and TV shows aimed at children. Disney has actually come under fire for being reluctant to participate in this trend.
Yes, we’ve had blink-and-you’ll-miss-it images of two moms with a child in the background, or verbal allusions to same-sex relationships. But Lightyear’s depiction of a same-same relationship and multi-decade marriage catapults Disney to the vanguard of this cultural controversy.
To my mind, what’s most noteworthy here isn’t really the kiss that we see, but the fact that the film depicts everything around it as completely normal and unremarkable. Buzz obviously knows that Alisha is gay. The couple then gets married, has a child (the biological details there are never explained), and lives decades together, all without ever suggesting that this is anything other than how things are supposed to be.
This worldview is, pardon the pun, light years beyond LaFou’s giggling innuendo hinting at his attraction to Gaston in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast remake. Instead, it fully embraces a perspective on these issues in direct conflict with what Scripture teaches about the purpose and place of sexuality in marriage between a man and a woman.
For many fans of Pixar and Toy Story, Disney’s deliberate, intentional and political embrace of such a radical, activist position on this issue will come as an enormous disappointment. Buzz Lightyear is a beloved, iconic character. And apart from this issue, his origin is story is one that many families otherwise would have enjoyed.
But just as Disney feels it must take a particular stand on this cultural issue, many families with equally strong, sincerely held biblical convictions will likely choose to pass on Lightyear’s advocacy of the LGBT agenda here.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.