Lightyear is purportedly the film that Andy, the boy in 1995’s Toy Story, saw before getting the toy Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen throughout the franchise). If that premise sounds convoluted, do not worry because it’s dispatched in a quick title card at the beginning of the newest release from Disney Pixar. Throughout the main action of Lightyear, only scant references to Toy Story remain, and what’s left is a middling, though exciting and beautifully rendered, space adventure.

Buzz Lightyear, the character, not the toy, is voiced by Chris Evans, and the brash Space Ranger crashes a spaceship, filled with scientists and colonists, on an inhospitable planet. Throughout the first act, Buzz tests a variety of fuel sources in his effort to correct his mistake and get the crashed spaceship back on mission. Meanwhile, with each test run, Buzz’s compatriots age dramatically, as Pixar presents a simplified and sanitized version of the theory of relativity for kids, and the colony comes to accept their new lives on the planet even though Buzz does not. When the evil Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) attacks the colony, Buzz must team up with a new generation of Space Rangers to defeat Zurg’s robot army and save the colony.

Much of the thematic resonance of Lightyear focuses on the importance of family and valuing each other’s unique abilities, and while this works within the context of the film, the themes are decidedly more heavy-handed than Pixar’s most successful efforts like Up, Inside Out, and this year’s Turning Red. Lightyear is more like Pixar’s lighter fare, Cars, Finding Dory, and Brave, films that serve their purpose for their audience. The plot is predictable with the exception of a second act twist that doesn’t make sense either scientifically or thematically, and the characters are all broad types that work well in the film’s comedic moments.

While Lightyear provides a fun diversion, both skippable and enjoyable, the cynical view is that the film serves to sell toys. And in this it was successful – at least for one boy named Andy in 1995.

3/5 stars