The Makers of Lightyear Tell Us Everything About Buzz, and Nothing About Zurg

The Makers of Lightyear Tell Us Everything About Buzz, and Nothing About Zurg
Image: Disney/Pixar

Toy Story’s legacy has continued to grow (to infinity and beyond) since its release in 1995. The animated franchise spawned a group of characters that have stood the test of time and now the creatives at Pixar are going all-in on one of their most iconic heroes – Buzz Lightyear.

Pixar’s Lightyear is a sci-fi action-adventure film following the adventures of Buzz Lightyear. But don’t go in expecting this to be a Toy Story sequel, or even a prequel. Lightyear is the story of the character that inspired the toy, not the toy himself.

Director Angus MacLane described Lightyear as the movie that Andy from Toy Story went to see as a kid, which ignited his love for Buzz Lightyear.

“I think I’ve always liked Buzz as a toy, but I’ve always been inspired by the idea that if Buzz was this amalgam of reacting to the sci-fi movies of our youth, what is his movie? What is his story? What is that mythology? Why don’t we explore that?” MacLane told Lifehacker Australia in an interview.

Lightyear movie
Lightyear movie. Credit: Disney/Pixar

Moviegoers know that the toy Buzz Lightyear is already steeped in his own mythology from the Toy Story movies, so for the Lightyear creatives, it was a case of using those parameters to help whittle down the character’s origin story.

“I’ve always wondered where Buzz came from, so then it was kind of a process of elimination. Because it could be anything. So trying to just whittle it down to what story do we want to tell and then there’s what exciting things do you want to see? What things do you expect based on what you’ve come to expect from Buzz?” MacLane explained.

“There’s a lot of factors that are good in limiting what you can do, which is helpful because those limitations allow you to figure out what your story is.”

The story that the team landed on is one of a man out of time.

In this film, Buzz Lightyear is still a space ranger for Star Command, but after he becomes responsible for marooning his colony on a hostile planet, he goes on a journey through space and time to make things right.

lightyear movie disney pixar
Lightyear movie. Image: Disney/Pixar

To set the scene, Lightyear makes use of a lot of Pixar tips and tricks that anchor us in the emotion of the story. Including, in this writer’s opinion, what is one of the most heart-wrenching montages since Up.

MacLane told Lifehacker the montage was designed as a way to show time passing. It contains all sorts of attention to detail that only eagle-eyed fans will catch, like different ship designs or a change to the Star Command logo. But similar to Up, Lightyear’s montage finds its emotional core in the friendship between Buzz and his space ranger colleague Alisha.

As Buzz continues to do more hyperspeed tests he experiences time dilation. Similar to Interstellar this results in him missing out on big chunks of his life back home.

“[The montage] was always intended to be this division between the life that Buzz is living and the life that Alicia is living,” MacLane said.

“It starts when they’re walking down a hallway and they go two separate ways visually. That’s really where they break off and she’s living a life and then we always see Buzz is always kind of looking at her through a window or through a picture frame. Like it’s this vision of what life would be like if he stood still or stayed put and enjoyed that life.”

lightyear movie interview
Image: Disney/Pixar

The montage is also a momentous one because it represents the life of one of Pixar’s most diverse characters, Alisha, voiced by Uzo Aduba.

Reports came out earlier in the year that Disney had removed and then reinstated a same-sex kiss scene in Lightyear.

Representing the LGBTQ+ community was clearly very important to the Lightyear team and it was something that had been part of the story since its early stages.

“When it came to [Alisha’s] relationship being a queer relationship, we’re building a film that, or at least trying to build a film that, represents a broad cross-section of all the people that are around us,” Producer Galyn Susman told Lifehacker Australia.

“I think it’s time that we have a beautiful representation of a loving queer couple.”

When it came to expanding on the mythology of the original Buzz, the Lightyear team knew that certain things had to play a part in the film.

Buzz Lightyear as a toy is decked out with all sorts of fancy gadgets, like a laser beam and wings, which MacLane and Susman confirmed we will see the origin of in Lightyear.

Equally important to Buzz’s story is his iconic villain Zurg. While it’s clear from marketing that Zurg is in the film, the creatives were hesitant to spill anything about the character.

“I can’t say anything. Zurg’s in it though,” MacLane teased.

lightyear movie zurg
Image: Disney/Pixar

It’s no secret that Buzz Lightyear and Zurg’s relationship in Toy Story drew many parallels to another successful space franchise that inspired children everywhere (including Lightyear’s director): Star Wars.

Coincidentally, since Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, both the makers of Star Wars and the makers of Lightyear now sit under one big corporate umbrella. MacLane said that in the making of Lightyear, their team was able to take advantage of ILM’s experience from Star Wars.

“There were assets, kind of kitbashing assets, of model detail that they would use to build spaceships, very much like the model detail they used internally for Star Destroyers and whatnot, and they did share those assets with us,” MacLane said.

“Small model detail was shared from ILM, which was a neat collaboration both within the family but also it paid a nice homage to the lineage of the film.”

While it may be hard to differentiate at first, Lightyear and Toy Story are two very different films. Although, they may share one more Pixar staple.

“The pizza planet truck is in there somewhere,” MacLane said.

Let us know if you spot it when Lightyear releases in cinemas on June 16.

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