Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead from the Lightyear trailer.
We’re firmly in an era of sequels, spin-offs, and franchises. One type of story that a lot of companies are creating to squeeze another title out of their most popular creations is the “origin story” – basically a prequel that goes into detail about the background of a particular character. The Star Wars prequels showed how overexplaining a classic character can be more of a negative than a positive, but franchises push on regardless. From Willy Wonka to Hannibal Lecter, backstories abound in fiction.
Buzz Lightyear is not a character I would have ever chosen to write an entire origin story for. For one thing, Buzz Lightyear is a toy – he doesn’t have an origin story; he was made in a factory and shipped out to a toy shop where Andy’s family bought him! But I guess Lightyear isn’t taking that approach!
The film’s trailer, which was a surprise release a couple of days ago, seems to show a “real” Buzz Lightyear inhabiting a sci-fi world. All of the elements that we know of were present: his rocket-ship, his colourful spacesuit, Star Command, and even his unrealistically large Desperate Dan-esque chin. But instead of simply being a toy for kids to play with, Buzz seems to be a fully-real person in his own right.
This isn’t actually the first attempt at that concept. Though I haven’t seen it, there was a short-lived television series called Buzz Lightyear of Star Command which aired in 2000-2001 and even spawned a video game adaptation for the PlayStation, Dreamcast, PC, and Game Boy Colour. The series might be one you remember, but it doesn’t seem to have been as big as some of the other Disney projects of the era – I hadn’t even heard of it until researching the topic for this article!
It’s possible that Buzz Lightyear of Star Command’s remaining superfans might be treated to an easter egg or two in the new film, so if you fall into that category keep your eyes peeled! Disney and Pixar have a longstanding habit of harkening back to older titles and past iterations of their popular franchises, so I wouldn’t be shocked at all if a couple of sneaky references or callbacks to Buzz Lightyear of Star Command make it into the final cut of the film!
The trailer itself was exciting and surprisingly had more of a dark tone than I might’ve expected. There were some moments that clearly set up dangerous moments for Buzz as he goes on his adventure, and the dark, engraved door opening to reveal a red glow was incredibly well-done and provided a lot of tension. It almost gave me a Doom vibe – odd as that might sound!
Buzz Lightyear as a character has, since his inception, been a uniquely Disney take on mid-century sci-fi. The likes of Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and even Star Trek: The Original Series are present in his characterisation and aesthetic, deliberately so. But of course the biggest influence over Buzz Lightyear’s charmingly retro design comes from Walt Disney’s Tomorrowland and Epcot concepts – which have since been brought to life at Disney’s theme parks.
Anyone who’s ever ridden Space Mountain can see clear evidence of its inspiration in the trailer for Lightyear – Buzz’s rocket-ship resembles the ride vehicles and even the launch platform looked an awful lot like the track of the ride. The rings Buzz seemed to be flying through at one point also bore a striking resemblance to Space Mountain.
A big part of the trailer concerned Buzz Lightyear taking a trip in his rocket-ship. There were influences from a lot of astronaut films and television shows in the way he was preparing for the journey, and he seems to have a colleague or friend at Star Command who’s helping him with his mission; perhaps someone who will serve as a point of contact at mission control.
The animation in the trailer was outstanding. Seeing Buzz’s ship slingshotting around the star was truly striking, and reminded me that Pixar is renowned as one of the world’s best animation studios for a reason! As a Trekkie that moment reminded me a lot of slingshot effects in both Star Trek: The Original Series and more significantly in the 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but there was also more than a little influence from more modern sci-fi titles like Interstellar in the way the star in particular was presented. Overall it was an astonishingly beautiful sequence.
We have no idea at this stage what the story of Lightyear might be. Chris Evans – of Marvel fame – will star as the titular hero, but we don’t know who will play the film’s villain, Emperor Zurg. Zurg has been part of the mythos of Buzz Lightyear since his first appearance, but had a more fleshed-out role in Toy Story 2. Just like it’ll be interesting to see a “real-life” version of Buzz, so too will it be interesting to see how Emperor Zurg makes the jump from toy to real person.
If we continue the mid-century sci-fi analogy from earlier that we know Buzz Lightyear as a character draws from, I see Emperor Zurg as filling a role similar to the likes of Flash Gordon’s Ming the Merciless – but with an aesthetic inspired by early depictions of robots and even Darth Vader. I’ll watch for a casting announcement with trepidation – getting the right person who can play the character in suitably over-the-top style could be crucial to the film’s success!
I’m not sure what to make of the toy cat in the trailer. Lightyear has been described by Disney and Pixar as “the definitive origin story” of the character, and while we’re assured that he is fully human (or at least not a toy) in the film, the presence of what seemed to be a toy cat – whose name is Sox – made me wonder! Is there something else going on here?
On the other hand, Pixar’s press release talked about the original inception of Buzz Lightyear during the creation of Toy Story. They specifically talked about how they envisioned the toy Buzz Lightyear as being merchandise for a blockbuster movie about an action hero – and how Lightyear is that movie! Kind of a film-within-a-film thing, except that Lightyear is a feature-length title in its own right!
The trailer was genuinely one of the best and most interesting that I’ve seen in months, and Lightyear is firmly on my list of titles for 2022! The film is currently scheduled for a June release window, and will presumably hit cinemas first before heading to Disney+ after a month or two – barring any pandemic-related delays or closures.
The retro sci-fi vibe that Lightyear seems to be wholeheartedly embracing appears to give the film a delightfully old-school charm, with clear influences from Disney’s Tomorrowland in particular. That alone would be enough to pique my curiosity, but the fact that there were some amazing visual effects and what seems to be a slightly mysterious and interesting story has seen Lightyear come from nowhere to rocket its way onto my list for next year. I’m genuinely looking forward to this one now!
Lightyear is scheduled to be released on the 17th of June 2022. Lightyear is the copyright of Pixar and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.