"I just need to be by myself," the title character of "Lightyear" insists. And when anyone says that in a movie, we know the opposite is true.
If you're looking for a continuation of the "Toy Story" movies, you may be disappointed by "Lightyear," but if you're up for something different, you're in luck. Now stolidly voiced by Chris Evans, Buzz Lightyear is depicted not as a toy but an actual (albeit animated) person.
"Lightyear" purports to be the movie that made "Toy Story's" Andy fall in love with the character of Buzz and want the toy. It's a full-on action movie in which the calm, in-command astronaut and his best friend/colleague Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) find themselves marooned on a hostile planet.
"Lightyear" is probably the least Pixar-y Pixar movie yet. It has many of the animation titan's trademarks — warmth, rigorous character detail, a sensitive score by composer Michael Giacchino, light-touch messaging — but it's not as funny as other Pixar movies. In its focus on action scenes and perilous escapes, it has more in common with "Ad Astra" than "Toy Story."
Like all Pixar protagonists, Buzz has something to learn and it's pretty much the same thing you'd think Tom Cruise would figure out in "Top Gun: Maverick" but doesn't: how to be a team player.
His counterpart in the "Toy Story" movies seems to have unlearned this lesson, but this Buzz is a renegade who comes to realize that his only chance to stay alive and defeat evil, robotic Zurg (the other "Toy Story" holdover) is to combine his skills with the skills of others. Daringly, "Lightyear" also takes a stab at illustrating Einstein's Theory of Relativity, as Buzz discovers a wrinkle in time that keeps him young while those around him age.
Time travel tends to give me a headache in movies but "Lightyear" deals with it clearly and matter-of-factly, which also leaves more room for us to feel all the feels we don't get from garden-variety action movies. Even our hero seems more fully human than most of his ilk, largely because the wizards at Pixar are so committed to the idea that frailties make us unique (and that they may not be frailties at all).
Maybe the best news about "Lightyear" is that it reaffirms Pixar/Disney's commitment to showing movies in theaters, after COVID led the studio to release its last three titles on streaming services. Let's hope these films always debut in theaters, to infinity and beyond.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG for bloodless violence
Where: In area theaters.