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Life-lessons abound in 'Lightyear,' an origin story about Buzz from 'Toy Story'

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

When Pixar's groundbreaking family comedy "Toy Story" premiered 27 years ago, it introduced us not just to computer animation but to a delightfully full-of-himself toy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOY STORY")

TIM ALLEN: (As Buzz Lightyear) To infinity and beyond.

PFEIFFER: Now Buzz Lightyear gets a movie all his own. And critic Bob Mondello says the animated adventure "Lightyear" also breaks new ground.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: A legend on the screen reminds us that in 1995, a boy named Andy received a Space Ranger toy for his birthday that was based on a character in his favorite movie. This, we're told, is that movie. It begins with Rangers Buzz Lightyear and Alisha Hawthorne - not toys but people, although, of course, they're still computer-generated - landing on a new planet, Buzz swaggering as he generally does.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

CHRIS EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) Buzz Lightyear mission log - there seems to be no sign of intelligent life anywhere.

UZO ADUBA: (As Alisha Hawthorne) Who are you talking to?

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) No one.

ADUBA: (As Alisha Hawthorne) You were narrating again.

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) I was not - just doing the mission log.

ADUBA: (As Alisha Hawthorne) You do know no one ever listens to those.

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) I know that. Narrating helps me focus.

MONDELLO: And he'll need to focus because this planet is hostile, afflicted with hungry vines that snatch anything new and drag it underground, including their spaceship if he can't get it away in time.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) Let's get everyone home.

MONDELLO: And because he's Mr. Go It Alone...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) Come on. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Do you need my help?

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) Negative.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Are you sure?

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) I'm Buzz Lightyear. I'm always sure.

MONDELLO: ...He does not get it away in time, and they're marooned until he can achieve light speed again. That requires testing. So with his pal Alisha in command...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

ADUBA: (As Alisha Hawthorne) I'm going to grant you four minutes to be off planet. But then you come right back to us. To infinity...

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) ...And beyond.

MONDELLO: What Alisha knows that Buzz doesn't quite grasp is that as he approaches hyperspeed, time will slow for him, so his minutes away will be years for folks he leaves behind; meaning while he keeps testing, Alisha lives a rich, full life. She finds a wife, has a son, becomes a grandmother. And because Buzz misses all those moments - and we do, too, except for quick glimpses - they acquire an emotional tug, much like the opening married life montage in Pixar's "Up." To help him cope, Alisha surprises him...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

PETER SOHN: (As SOX) Hello, Buzz.

MONDELLO: ...With what looks like a kitten.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

SOHN: (As SOX) I am SOX, your personal companion robot.

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) My what?

SOHN: (As SOX) I was issued by Star Command to ease your emotional transition after your time away.

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) Oh. Well, that's very considerate of you, robot feline. But no thank you.

MONDELLO: Director Angus MacLane and his team offer plenty to applaud in "Lightyear" - state-of-the-art visuals, some even created in IMAX; a gratifying level of diversity, both in racial and LGBTQ terms; clever matching of this real-life Buzz to the Tim Allen voiced toy. Chris Evans does the vocals here, bringing a bit of Captain America's authority to a Space Ranger who has thick brown hair to go with that massive dimpled chin and equally massive ego.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) I'm better off just doing the job myself.

MONDELLO: As always with Pixar, life lessons abound about setting realistic goals, learning to relinquish control, about how even heroes need allies. And if those lessons are accompanied by action filler...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) We're being pursued - massive robots (ph).

SOHN: (As SOX) That was utterly terrifying, and I regret having joined you.

MONDELLO: ...That's just the price of making it to the cineplex these days. This may be mid-level Pixar, but that's still respectable. And though the merchandizing notion behind "Lightyear" - kids' favorite movie spawns kids' favorite toy requiring new origin movie - feels a tad ominous, I'd be dreading the inevitable SOX spinoff more...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LIGHTYEAR")

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) Come on. Don't break my cat.

KEKE PALMER: (As Izzy Hawthorne) He's purring. He likes it.

EVANS: (As Buzz Lightyear) SOX, do you like that?

SOHN: (As SOX) I do.

MONDELLO: ...If he weren't so cute.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.