In 1995, Pixar released a little animated movie called Toy Story that saw a poor cowboy doll’s life turned upside down when Buzz Lightyear burst into Andy’s bedroom. In that film, Buzz was certain that he was a real Space Ranger and not, as Woody kept reminding him, a child’s plaything, but the deluded action figure turned out to be very wrong.
Well, who’s laughing now, Woody! Because in the latest Pixar movie Lightyear, Buzz has swapped the toybox for a starship and is a real Space Ranger. Well, he’s sort of real. Directed by Angus Maclane and produced by Galyn Susman (two Pixar veterans), Lightyear is the film that Andy watched as an impressionable eight-year-old that made him want a Buzz Lightyear action figure.
It’s a bold meta concept that redefines the character of Buzz while maintaining the spirit of our favourite Toy Story character. Finding the common links between the toy version of Buzz and his big-screen counterpart was important to the filmmakers, and there was one thing that Maclane and Susman believed from the start was central to the character, the feeling that he was always a fish out of water.
“What we figured out was the main driver for Buzz is that he was always in a disagreement over the nature of reality,” Malane told us. “And so in changing Buzz from a side character to the main character, we want to make sure that the story allowed him to have that disagreement the same way he did in Toy Story, but for different reasons for Lightyear.”
The Buzz of Lightyear has a wholly more upsetting reason for disagreeing with the nature of reality than not knowing he’s an action figure. You see, this version of Buzz isn’t the comic relief like in Toy Story. He’s far more serious and driven to “complete the mission”.
His drive inadvertently sees him sacrifice the time he could have spent with his friends working on getting them home, which has the side effect of leaving him literally a man out of time with all those he knew gone.
For that reason, Maclane and Susman decided they didn’t want Tim Allen to voice the character. They wanted a more action-oriented star, and who better for the role than Chris Evans, who’s played another lantern-jawed hero who’s not in his own time – Captain America.
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“When casting Buzz, it was important to differentiate our hero Buzz from the toy that’s made on his character and represented in the Toy Story movies,” Susman explained at a press conference attended by The Digital Fix.
“So that meant we needed a new voice for Buzz. He needed to have that nice rich sound, able to be both dramatic and comedic,” Susman continued. “And most importantly, he needed to be heroic without coming off as arrogant or dense. And that’s a tall order. And we immediately knew we had to ask Chris. ”
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Despite casting an actor best known for playing a superhero in the role, Maclane didn’t want this to be a typical superhero origin story, telling us he believed the fun stuff happens on the adventure, not while you’re planning it. “I wanted to kind of get into it,” Maclane said. “Imagine that this was an adventure where there were definitely stories before and stories after, but it was not the very first thing.”
“We did explore [Buzz’s origin] a little bit,” added Susman. “When he wasn’t a Space Ranger. Yeah. Honestly, it wasn’t very interesting. You just kept waiting for him to get to space.” Maclane said the discussion they had about Buzz’s origin wasn’t propulsive enough, and you kept on waiting for him to get the suit.
Interestingly, though, Maclane does see this film as an origin story, just not for Buzz. This is an origin story for Zurg,” he laughed. “I knew Zurg was going to be in the film and needed to be the central antagonist. That’s really what’s the driver for so many of the decisions.”
It’s true that not including Zurg in the film would have raised a few fans’ eyebrows, and honestly, what’s a hero without an epic villain to face off against. The character is central to the Lightyear mythos, despite not appearing in the first film, thanks to his memorable appearance in Toy Story 2 and the spin-off animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
Without spoiling anything, this new version of Zurg shares more than a few things in common with their vision for Buzz. He’s no longer comic relief or a subject of mockery. This new Zurg is intimidating and powerful. Worst of all, he has a plan that could upend the lives of everyone on the planet, and he cannot be reasoned with. To go with his new attitude, he’s got a brand new look courtesy of Greg Peltz, sets art director for Lightyear, and his team.
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“The original design from Toy Story 2 is iconic, and we wanted to draw from that source material as much as possible,” Peltz explained during the press conference. “But at the same time, our movie has a look that is more mature and detailed than the original toy version of the character.”
“We needed our Zurg to fit within the hard-boiled sci-fi world that we had created,” he continued. “But above all, Zurg, he needs to be a threat. His design has to be intimidating so he can carry the menace and the presence our story demands. Taking all of those goals together, reimagining the character as a giant robot was a natural fit for the character and the world he occupies.”
This reimagining of Buzz’s world that we saw vaguely sketched in Toy Story goes beyond Zurg. You might expect the film to be choc-a-bloc with winks and nods to the quadrilogy that made Pixar’s name, but in fact, the references to Toy Story are fleeting. Buzz will occasionally echo lines said by his diminutive doppelganger, but there’s no eye-rolling moment where he declares he is “falling with style” or anything like that.
The division between the world of Toy Story and Lightyear is clearly delineated, and Maclane and Susman put a lot of thought into what to reference and what not to. This led to the exclusion of one of Toy Story’s most iconic characters, who you might expect to see in the film, the Little Green Men, who previously appeared in the Lightyear animated series.
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“They’re from Pizza Planet, and they were included with the Buzz Lightyear TV show, but that always felt wrong,” Maclane told us. “If they were aware of Buzz canonically, then when Buzz showed up in Toy Story in the claw game, they would know him. They would recognise him, or he would recognise them. Since there was no recognition there, well, the reason why [Buzz] didn’t recognise them is that they’re from Pizza Planet. So I felt, as a fan, that was incorrect.”
That said, Maclane did admit there’s a hidden image of one of the three-eyed aliens hidden in the film, so keep your eye out for that. So what does the future hold for Buzz and his team?
Well, the sky (or space) is the limit; as Maclane and Susman said, they imagine the character will have plenty of adventures after this. And although there’s been no official announcement of a sequel, Maclane couldn’t help but tease that” he knows” where Buzz goes after Lightyear; he’s just not telling anyone yet.
Lightyear blasts into theatres on June 17.