Every cinephile loves a good hero—someone to admire, someone to root for. Heroes overcome insurmountable obstacles to save the day. And the best heroes—the ones who live on long after their films hit the big screen—are, at heart, human. They have flaws and fears—they’re utterly relatable, even as they soar to greatness.
Buzz Lightyear is such a hero—in fact, he’s the kind of big-screen phenomenon that inspired a successful line of toys. That’s what filmmakers pictured when creating the character for Pixar Animation Studios’ 1995 feature film Toy Story. That story placed Buzz Lightyear—the toy in this case—center stage as the brand-new, highly sought-after toy that gives vintage pull-string Sheriff Woody a run for his money as Andy’s favorite toy. Fast forward 21 years, and director Angus MacLane found himself asking: What movie inspired Andy to beg for a fancy action figure with lasers, karate chop action and aerodynamic space wings?
Lightyear is the movie that Andy, his friends and probably most of the rest of the world saw and Angus wanted to make something that felt true to those fun, big-budget popcorn films while also honoring the groundwork of the Toy Story franchise. A sci-fi action adventure and the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear, Lightyear” follows the legendary Space Ranger on an intergalactic adventure.
The Koalition spoke to director/screenwriter Lightyear’s Angus MacLane and producer Galyn Susman to learn more about the story of Buzz Lightyear, the meaning behind the movie and more.
“I did a lot of research, breaking down the nature of genre thrillers,” says MacLane. “I knew Buzz would have to face a big problem, and I liked the sci-fi element of time dilation. There’s a rich history of character-out-of-time heroics: Captain America, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, to name a few.”
According to producer Galyn Susman, Buzz Lightyear gave filmmakers a rich opportunity for exploration. “Ever since we met the character, Buzz has had this inherent and interesting tendency to view the world in a unique way,” she says. “His version of reality is never quite the same as everybody else’s, and there’s something super entertaining about that. “He’s an aspirational character,” Susman continues. “And the world really needs more aspirational characters right now.”
“What was really important about that balance [was we] definitely wanted to keep Buzz an aspirational character. We need him to be striving and trying to be perfect, trying to do what’s right. So, all of that aspect of Buzz was really important to maintain, but he needs to have dimensionality, he needs to be an interesting character that you want to spend 90 minutes of your life with. So, we obviously had a lot of filling out and work to do to make him a more well-rounded character.”
The film kicks off with accomplished Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, his commander Alisha Hawthorne and a crew of more than a thousand scientists and technicians heading home from their latest mission. Approximately 4.2 million light-years away from Earth, a sensor signals their proximity to an uncharted but potentially resource-rich planet. Buzz makes the call to reroute their exploration vessel, aka the Turnip, to T’Kani Prime—a swampy planet with aggressive vines and giant swarming bugs. Efforts for a quick exit go horribly awry, culminating in a crash that shatters their fuel cell, leaving Buzz, Alisha and their entire crew stranded on the less-than-welcoming planet.
“Nobody’s going anywhere until the resident scientists can create a new hyper-speed crystal that holds up to a test flight. It’ll be years of trial and error. Buzz blames himself. “Burdened with the guilt of having made a critical mistake, Buzz is consumed by the desire to rectify it,” says Susman. “Our story takes place in space—but it’s still something we all face at some point or another. We make bad decisions, but if we spend our lives regretting those bad decisions instead of investing in what’s in front of our eyes, is that really living?”
Buzz is the guy who’s been at the top of his game for a while, but we’re witnessing in this movie his first fall from grace. He’s never experienced that before. Marooned on a decidedly hostile planet, the crew settles in for the long game.
“We wanted [it to] feel like the Buzz character [from Toy Story] in a way, with both the familiar and the unknown or the unfamiliar. At the same time, it’s technologically advanced but a lot of it is just choices to increase or decrease detail and then [figuring out] how much is shown to the audience. It’s a level of stylization we’ve settled on for all the characters that will work within the design language that we want. There were a lot of factors. [We wanted] the background [and] foreground to mesh together both in the way the textures fit but also the way the geometry felt like they were in the same universe. It wasn’t a stylized world with realistic characters or vice versa, it’s in this weird part where it’s caricatured but not as they are in some of our movies and not because the characters feel like they have to have a lot more weight to them. They have to have a lot more physicality to them because of the other design choices.”
One of the movie’s main themes is time. Among Buzz’s battles with guilt, technology, chemistry and surprisingly strong vines—it seems time is the most challenging. With each test flight he undertakes to gauge their latest hyperspeed fuel concoction, he experiences time dilation. His initial four-minute test flight for Buzz takes four years on T’Kani Prime and it intensifies with each effort. Life is literally passing him by: Alisha and the crew members are living their lives pursuing interests, building families, getting older—and Buzz virtually stays the same. The math is complex, but Buzz sums it up in the film: “The faster I fly, the further into the future I travel. I get it.”
Adds MacLane, “Life is never what we plan for. It’s not about dwelling on the past and wishing things were different— that seems like a waste of time. While Buzz is obsessed with righting his wrongs, Alisha decides that she’s going to do her best with where she is right now. She wants to make the most of her time, regardless of what planet she’s on.”
“Everybody can relate to that feeling of when you make a decision, and you close the door and sometimes you have that, ‘Oh should I’ve done that? Should I have gone there? Should I have been that?’ And you could lose yourself by living in the should. Instead of being right here today. I think that’s relatable to all ages.”
To learn more about Lightyear check out our full interview above and you can learn more about how advanced technology was used to create a realistic world and authentic African-Amercan hairstyles.
Lightyear releases in theaters on June 17th.