Review: Disney-Pixar’s “Lightyear” has no reason to exist, but Chris Evans does his best

2 stars. 1 hour 45 minutes. Rated PG. In theaters June 17.

“Lightyear,” Disney-Pixar’s first feature-length “Toy Story” spin-off, is so streamlined it’s barely there. That’s not always a bad thing in this brisk animated adventure, which sees Chris Evans essentially replacing Tim Allen as the voice of Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear.

But when it comes to memorable themes or performances, it’s unbearably light. The movie’s concept is simple: in the “Toy Story” universe, it’s the film that inspired Buzz Lightyear the toy, which Tim Allen gruffly voiced over the last four movies since 1995, and which “Toy Story’s” human protagonist, Andy, both covets and outgrows.

I’m a much bigger fan of Evans than Allen, but Allen is a gushing font of personality compared to Evans here. The logic behind the direction may have been to button him up a bit before rebooting him, but it backfires by making the first half of the movie (at least) into a situation where the main character is so disconnected and arrogant you don’t really care what happens to him.

The animating concept doesn’t matter past the opening card, nor do the endlessly recycled sci-fi trappings, which are at least rendered with an impressive amount of detail and respect for their influences — ranging from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (of course) to Pixar’s own “Wall-E.” Like most Pixar productions, it’s a nonstop visual feast, but it’s not really about its genre.

Lightyear opens with our hero piloting an ark of sorts through the cosmos and detouring, wrongly, to an alien planet 4.2 million light years from Earth. There, he and his hundreds of fellow Space Rangers and scientists (and, apparently, unending supplies) are marooned by a piloting mistake Lightyear makes in a moment of crisis.

The square-jawed, seemingly humorless Lightyear then goes back in time to prevent the crash from ever happening, with predictable complications, and eventually runs up against Zurg (James Brolin) and his army of evil robots. The plot is pure Star Trek, particularly with the focus on dialogue-heavy character development and the tension between the Space Rangers peacekeeping-and-exploration charter (modeled on the United Federation of Planets), and the more militaristic factions within their ranks, including the stern Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock Jr.).

Alisha Hawethorne (Uzo Aduba), Lightyear’s commander and best friend, and her daughter Izzy (Keke Palmer) at least have some agency in Lightyear’s schemes. But like all the characters — even the villains — they mostly stand back and let him splash in his puddles. At least Disney reinstated the movie’s same-sex kiss after protests from within Pixar, despite it losing play in some international markets, according to reports.

The real problem is the off-putting way in which Lightyear is written. He’s a Boy Scout-Marine hybrid, minus any discernable human history. That Evans makes him even somewhat likable by the end is a feat, given how uninspiring everything else about him is. His rote character arc — Don’t go it alone! Take the help that’s offered! — can be seen from about 5.88 trillion miles away.

The aesthetic is pure toy-company design, including plot device/robot-cat companion Sox (Peter Sohn), who gets the biggest laughs. With few exceptions, it takes Star Wars’ “used future” aesthetic (Sox is essentially R2D2) and buddy dynamics and even matches some of its silhouettes. Lightyear ends up with a team of misfits aiding him in his quest — the nervous Mo Morrison (Taiki Waititi) and grizzled Darby Steel (Dale Soules), in addition to Izzy — and their chunky space suits, archetypical personalities and against-all-odds successes look and feel like “The Clone Wars” spin-off “The Bad Batch” (another Disney property).

The movie, directed by Angus MacLane, and with a stirring score by the versatile Michael Giacchino, never justifies itself beyond pure commercial expansion. That’s not much different, of course, than the pointless, lucrative live-action remakes of Disney’s hand-drawn classics (the forthcoming “Little Mermaid,” as well as “Aladdin” and the tech-testing “The Lion King”). And to its credit, this is an ostensibly original story situated within the overall “Toy Story” intellectual property.

But for all its production values and gorgeous, lifelike vistas, it’s flat. This should have been a clever short film about the character, but instead it’s stretched out to feature length. And it’s barely even a character.

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