Lightyear Isn't Pixar Making More Toy Story, It's Pixar Doing A Classic Sci-Fi Adventure Flick [Footage Reaction]

For more than 30 years, Pixar has been more than just an animation studio that churns out hit movies for kids. It has also been one of the great homes of original and compelling animated cinema. There is a reason Pixar films are so often in the running for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. Through the years, we've seen a variety of genres covered through the studio's unique lens, from full-blown fantasy ("Brave") to coming-of-age tales ("Turning Red") and even superhero films ("The Incredibles"). But in all of that time, we've never seen a throwback sci-fi film. Yes, "WALL-E" is one hell of a sci-fi flick, but it's really more of a thinking person's sci-fi movie with a little bit of adventure thrown in the mix. The studio's newest movie, "Lightyear," is going to change all of that, as this very unique franchise spin-off is poised to give us the Pixar sci-fi action/adventure piece we didn't know we needed.

"Toy Story" started this studio's great run back in the mid-'90s and has since had three very successful sequels. But "Lightyear" takes the character of Buzz Lightyear (not the toy, but the "real" man/movie character) and gives us a movie based on him, akin to the movie that Andy from "Toy Story" probably watched as a kid that made him want a Buzz Lightyear action figure so badly in the first place. On one hand, that might seem like Disney trying to further cash in on Hollywood's current franchise-obsessed state. However, as someone who has now seen approximately the first 30 minutes of the movie, I can confidently say this is not some safe, cynical franchise extension. This is a full-blown sci-fi flick with heart, action, stakes, and entertainment value that makes the absolute most of the toys in this chest, so to speak.

Infinitely more than a simple spin-off

I admit it's difficult to judge an incomplete movie. But time and time again, Pixar has shown that it can do a lot with a little. Just think about the first 15 minutes of "Up," or the Jessie sequence from "Toy Story 2." Once again, Pixar manages to do that in the early minutes of "Lightyear," giving Chris Evans' new take on the hero a real chance to shine. What I have seen is a masterclass in the type of efficient storytelling this studio does so well, putting just about everyone else to shame in that department. While I don't want to spoil too much for people here, the setup is deceptively simple. What happens when a space mission, lightyears from Earth and the safety of other humans, goes wrong? What must heroes do to avoid leaving their fellow space travelers stranded on an alien world? These are the questions Buzz must answer, with the help of some new friends — and the answers are not simple.

Director Angus MacLane ("Finding Dory") demonstrates a deep love for sci-fi films of the '70s and '80s here, with little touches that make it clear that this isn't just "Toy Story In Space." This is very much a sci-fi movie taking inspiration from all over the place, ranging from "Star Wars" to "Enemy Mine," and even "Flash Gordon." It feels like one of those movies. It looks like one of those movies. It doesn't feel futuristic in the way overly-polished sci-fi sometimes can. Everything looks and feels tactile. Like it clicks. Like it's noisy. Like it's almost hilariously functional. Like LED TVs never existed, and like 4K screens would never become a thing in nearly every home in America.

At the same time, we have highly-advanced robots, lightspeed travel, efficient futuristic food, and even robot cat companions. It's imagining what the future might be in a fun way that doesn't matter if it misses the actual mark. We still love "Back to the Future II" even if its vision of the future doesn't remotely hold up. MacLane captures that vibe with admirable precision, even going so far as to include some familiar real-world problems to people who love this corner of pop culture, such as blowing into a Nintendo cartridge to get it to work. Specific problems a specific type of person will relate to. This movie feels as though it was made with a great deal of hyper-specific love.

The promise of greatness

Again, 30 minutes of a movie does not paint the whole picture, but what it can do is set an incredibly promising stage. Can this movie really justify turning Captain America into Buzz Lightyear while allowing the audience to divorce themselves from Tim Allen's toy version of the character? In my humble opinion, it absolutely can and does. MacLane and the rest of the filmmakers used this commercially-appealing back door to make a full-blown sci-fi film that isn't beholden to anything that came before or could come after. This has the makings of a great piece of filmmaking within the genre, regardless of whatever ties it may or may not have to "Toy Story." That was merely a way in. What it does beyond that is classic Pixar at its finest.

My sincere hope is that this movie can stick the landing in the final two acts. I did not see Zurg. I did not get the chance to see the meat of Buzz's mission. I do not know how this is all going to play out. What I do know is that I saw 30 minutes of a movie I am absolutely dying to see the rest of. My calendar is marked, and I kindly suggest you mark yours as well. This figures to be a very good time at the movies, folks.

"Lightyear" hits theaters on June 17, 2022.