Chris Evans’ casting does not bode well for those voice actors who made their mark in those glory years of Pixar and Disney projects. Lightyear proves, if anything, that the vocalisation of a permanent character in the hearts and minds of those who did not form a personality beyond liking Disney, is integral. So too is the firm hand behind the camera and the cues that give returning viewers and youngsters engaging in the Toy Story universe so far some common ground. Backstory to a character present from the first film. It is amazing how much mental gymnastics and heavy lifting goes into capturing a new marketing chapter for a franchise piece that, at one stage, had a heart to it.
But cast aside those awful feelings of nostalgia and embrace the new, whatever that may be. Lightyear looks great and has enough colour, range and excitement to it to immediately throw viewers into a build-up toward conflict and camaraderie. Give it a moment. Change of plans, bring that nostalgia right back as Evans rattles off those lines famously uttered by Allen and Tom Hanks a few decades ago. Lightyear has some trouble balancing those two feelings. It never quite gets it right but at least Angus MacLane’s direction shows a genuine, heartfelt attempt at including everyone. Keke Palmer and James Brolin make for both an exceptional new character that feels nicely fleshed out and an established villain whose origin story is decimated by a need for twists and turns.
Whether that was needed, and it certainly was not, is the choice made to provide a clear and concise reason for Lightyear to hit back at Emperor Zurg. But it was never needed in the bit-part toy momentum. Buzz the perfectionist is a change of pace that keeps up with the rapid-fire pacing. Evans knocks out another flawed time travel that is problematic throughout but thoroughly simple enough to understand, even if it does muddy the waters. Where else could it go, though? MacLane enlists safe hands and firm voice performers like Bill Hader and Uzo Abuda, but their inclusion is in those novelty supporting roles or the forgettable pieces that never have a chance at breaking through. It is still surprising to see Isiah Whitlock Jr. in the mix. Quite the change of pace from Cocaine Bear.
That is what every piece needs from time to time, though. A change of pace. Trailers and social outcry did much to damage Lightyear, a relatively fine and harmless bit of merchandise-ready effectiveness. While that may be a hard feeling to shake, there is still enough heart to this. Maclane’s writing and direction can be muddled, Evans’ leading performance can feel a little flat, but the animation is striking in that scratched-up space-age style. It makes for the most crucial part of Lightyear, its placement not just as a piece to spin off a character from a childhood classic but as a place to chart new ground with interesting scenarios and firm faces. The line is drawn well and makes for an entertaining time, a solid showcase of that Toy Story longevity.