From the moment Pixar Animation Studios announced that they were making an origin story movie about the real Buzz Lightyear, fans of the Toy Story franchise have been kind of confused. Lightyear is the brainchild of longtime Pixar animator and director Angus MacLane (Finding Dory), who wanted to explore what inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy that was so near and dear to Andy in the Toy Story movies. He hypothesized a film franchise akin to Star Wars in which Buzz was a real Space Ranger who has a huge cinematic adventure which was then distilled into the marketing version of Buzz which has been voiced by actor Tim Allen since 1995.
MacLane’s meta pitch is now the meta Pixar movie Lightyear, which arrives in theaters on June 17, 2022. IGN recently sat down with MacLane and his producer Galyn Susman to unpack the decision to cast actor Chris Evans (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) as this iteration of Buzz Lightyear and not use Allen’s voice.
Susman says that not confusing audiences was paramount to making Lightyear work. “There was so much initial confusion about our pitch, that it became really clear that we needed to have some clear delineators,” she tells IGN. “We needed a different voice. And our Buzz had to have hair. We needed some things that made it clear that this is not the Toy Story Buzz.”
And that meant not even pursuing any inside jokes, like having an Easter egg with Allen’s voice or a credit scene with cartoon Buzz commenting on “real-life” Buzz. “It’s interesting,” MacLane says. “I wanted to just use it as a setup and then get away from it because I don’t think there’s ultimately a lot of value in reminding the audience that it’s a movie. In the sense that, I think what’s gonna end up happening is when it comes out, and if it finds an audience, it’ll just become its own thing. There’s already enough confusion going around it. I didn’t want to get too cute.”
MacLean also addressed the cast of Chris Evans as Buzz during a long-lead presentation for the press, which included IGN: “Because (Buzz’s) voice is so iconic, you run the risk of, of imitation. And I never wanted as someone that was going to imitate that that character voice, but I wanted something to be different.”
“I wanted somebody who was not going to be goofy, funny. It is so hard to make a character that is a side character to a main character. You need to kind of step back and rethink it a little bit. I knew that the character was iconic enough that you needed someone with the gravitas and seriousness and the balance of comedy and drama for the actor was a very, very narrow window of actor that could do it. And there was a lot of comedy and serious action stuff that we’d seen Chris Evans do and and had always exemplified, and it was always impressed by his ability to not seem too goofy, but be able to laugh at himself. And it is really essential for the character.”
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Evans’ tenure as the MCU’s Captain America did indeed influence his casting as Buzz, which the filmmakers say he was the first and only choice for the role. “He had played a character that was a lantern-jawed hero that when I was out of time, it’s a different character. But you could see how trapped in the future he doesn’t recognize he plays that very comedically Well, and what would play it at a level that was subtle, taste-wise,” MacLean explained at the time. “We’re so thrilled that (Evans) warmed to the project immediately and has been such a wonderful partner for us.”
In his interview with IGN, MacLane says he conceptualized the Lightyear movie as one that Andy watched in the early ’80s on VHS and made a huge impact on him. When asked if he thought of it as a part of a series, a la Star Wars or more of a standalone, the director shares he thinks of the movie and the story that is on the back of toy Buzz’s packaging as two separate things.
“When I thought of this movie, what I knew is that this movie would ultimately not cover the events of the back of the package of Buzz, because I felt like that was too deep into the story without any world-building of the character, ” he explains. “But the original Star Wars was really good about being a self-contained idea within a larger story. And that’s always the way I thought about this movie. It’s a self-contained idea.”
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As for how they came to some of the support voice cast in Lightyear, the pair said in the case of Taika Waititi, who voices a rogue named Mo Morrison, Susman admits she had to beg the incredibly busy writer/director and actor to carve out some time to join their cast. And it worked.
But when it came to Keke Palmer, Susman says they did a lot of listening research to find new voices to add to their roster. “For the Izzy role, which is played by Keke, we weren’t as familiar with all of our options. But then once we had a session with Keke, that was it. She’s just got so much energy. She’s just a powerhouse.”
Lightyear also continues a Pixar tradition of using their own in-house creatives to voice an important character. Director Peter Sohn (The Good Dinosaur) is the very Zen voice of Buzz’s AI companion, Sox the cat.
“We’re asked not to cast internally,” Susman admits about that particular tradition that is blurred regularly. “You have to really want that person and you have to make a really good case for that person. And we did try. We really earnestly tried to find somebody else to play the role of Sox. We just couldn’t get it. Not the way Peter brings that sweet vulnerability and that cleverness. We just couldn’t get it from anybody else.”
“And he was honored,” MacLean adds. “He’s a really good performer and really easy to direct because he just does it. As a director, he knows how to get the funny out of it and just sort of adjusts a little bit.”
Lightyear Movie Pictures
For more Lightyear coverage, read up on Disney restoring the film’s same-sex kiss and watch the latest trailer, and then find out where the Toy Story films land on IGN’s ranking of Pixar films.