Vital Thrills got a chance to catch up with the Lightyear cast and crew to chat about the highly-anticipated new Pixar Animation Studios film. The film opens in theaters later today.
The definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the hero who inspired the toy, Lightyear follows the legendary Space Ranger after he’s marooned on a hostile planet 4.2 million light-years from Earth alongside his commander and their crew.
As Buzz tries to find a way back home through space and time, he’s joined by a group of ambitious recruits and his charming robot companion cat, Sox. Complicating matters and threatening the mission is the arrival of Zurg, an imposing presence with an army of ruthless robots and a mysterious agenda.
The film features the voices of Chris Evans as accomplished Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear, Uzo Aduba as his commander and best friend Alisha Hawthorne, and Peter Sohn as Sox. Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi and Dale Soules lend their voices to the Junior Zap Patrol’s Izzy Hawthorne, Mo Morrison and Darby Steel, respectively, and James Brolin can be heard as the enigmatic Zurg.
Director Angus MacLane talked about how the idea came about in the first place. “I’ve always wanted to tell or know about the backstory of the Space Rangers and Star Command and Buzz Lightyear. And so I also wanted to make something that was fun to make after doing Dory, which was fun, but it was really challenging when you have a protagonist that’s always forgetting about what they want.
“So what I decided to do was just think, well, wait a minute, why don’t we just make that movie like a cool sci-fi movie. And I pitched it just like that – what was the movie that Andy saw that made them want a Buzz Lightyear figure? Why don’t we just make that movie, just make something awesome and simple like that, with all of the nerdy, geeky, like sci-fi goodness that we want to see in the movie, just make the Buzz Lightyear movie, make one adventure of that.”
There are a lot of sci-fi film influences on Lightyear, and producer Galyn Susman talked about what some of them were. “Not one particular property but sort of a genre, like a whole scope. ’80s sci-fi, we love it. We grew up with it, or he grew up with it, and I was already old with it, but that’s okay. I love it.
“Just there’s such an immersive, tactile, interesting feeling about those films. Star Wars absolutely going all the way until Aliens. We just really, those are the films that we’ve watched dozens and dozens of times, or in his case, hundreds. And you can’t help but reference them when you watch them that much.”
MacLane added, “I would say, narratively, though we focused at the beginning looking at thrillers and what made thrillers work. As sci-fi is often just like a mayonnaise that’s spread over the film. It’s not a specific genre.” He and Susman joked about mayo versus mustard, but MacLane laughed and said, “What can you do with mayonnaise? So yeah, the idea was we looked at the genre of thrillers and tried to figure out what made them work.
“But to start the Buzz Lightyear movie, in the same way that Raiders of Lost Ark was thought of as a series of set-pieces, we were working on the set pieces that would be cool to see in the movie and what the emotional hook would be for the movie. Make me care about Buzz Lightyear’s journey. And those are really the two things we did to start working on the movie.”
Composer Michael Giacchino was asked about the score for the film, whether it was Andy’s Star Wars, and the elements that went into the music. He said, “You know, I mean, these are the movies I grew up on. I pretty much was raised on them. I ate them wholeheartedly as a kid growing up. And one of the things I used to do was sneak a small tape recorder into the movie theaters when I was a kid. And I would record the movie audio. And it would have the audience response, all of that on it. And I would listen to it.
“But this I hate, there was no VHS when I was growing up, there was nothing, there was no internet, nothing, no way to, the only way for me to sort of experience that movie again when it was out of theaters was to listen to it. So I would record them. And then I would sit at home. And every night, I would play them under my pillow.” He said that he felt like, if someone had asked him at 12 years old to make his own version of the films he grew up with, this was it.
Turning to the Lightyear cast, Chris Evans provides the voice of Buzz Lightyear and was asked about the new things he brought to a version of a character we’ve all loved for years. He said, “Well, well just getting to explore a character that we all know so well in a slightly more nuanced interpretation, you know what I mean? The Buzz that we all know is obviously a toy and as a toy, there are certain ways that they can move through the world without the weight that we may carry.
“You know, a toy knows its purpose, a toy doesn’t have to worry about disease… that impacts of the choices that we make as people are a little bit more consequential and it’s fun to put Buzz against that backdrop.”
Keke Palmer plays Izzy Hawthorne and she spoke about what personally connected her to the role. “Her love for her grandmother Alicia and the legacy that she wants to uphold. She wants to make her family proud and that’s something that I think we all can relate to. And the fact that she’s not afraid to pivot. I really admired that about her and that character.
“And I feel like she displays so many great leadership qualities that sometimes we overshadow, you know, she knows how to push her friends forward and, you know, she knows how to see something in somebody so they can carry out their duty. She just empowers others and it just… I love the character.”
Taika Waititi Maurice ‘Mo’ Morrison, and as a filmmaker himself, he spoke about the way Pixar makes their films. “I think it’s, especially with Pixar actually, it’s the relentless pursuit of a perfect story. And yeah, you can see that time and time again with their movies. And I always go back to their movies, not only just, you know, for entertainment or to feel something emotional, but I go back to study how they structure their films and just the economy of storytelling, the way that they write their scripts.
“You know, annoyingly they just get it right every time. And, you know, so I’m not afraid to rip off those, you know, those practices that they use ’cause it’s inspiring to see, as a filmmaker to see these guys make these perfect films all the time.”
Dale Soules plays Darby Steel in the film and talked about Darby’s past, though she said she wanted to keep it a little mysterious. “We do know that she was incarcerated. And that since everyone else is voluntary in the Junior Zap Patrol, she isn’t exactly voluntary. She’s there in the hope that she will reduce her parole if she does well. And so that’s the part you know.
“The part you don’t know that I found out that I really loved was that I was treated with such respect by Buzz Lightyear, Captain Lightyear, that that really informed the heart of her, because as gruff and tough, and as my grandmother might have said… she does respond to being treated with respect and he does that and it works like a charm. In a lot of ways, I suppose she is like me, she’s no-nonsense, she’s rough, she can be not, I think those are the two things I would say. And very loyal to those who do treat her with respect.”
A favorite character in the Lightyear cast will likely be Sox the robot cat, voiced by Peter Sohn. He was asked about finding a balance between a loveable cat and a robot. He said, “That was all Angus and the team, they’re really fun to work with. I’ve known Angus for a long time and we nerd out a lot on like… you know, our favorite sci-fi movies. And so there was, it was real easy to go from a militant sort of like yes, captain, I’ve got, you know, like warp one, you know, lightspeed.
“And then go into a friendly, you know, buddy and it’s so funny when we’re talking about Sox, like he’s a cat but like he’s so loyal like a dog. And I’m a dog guy. And it’s like I can totally jump into the idea of like whatever you want, Buzz, like I’ll bring you your snacks, I’ll fetch your newspapers. And so it was really, it was really fun in the room, but that was really made with Angus and those guys, for sure.”
James Brolin voices Zurg, another character we’re familiar with in the world of the film. He was asked about what he needed to learn about Zurg. He said, “Well, they heard my voice and they just wanted to hire me as Zurg ’cause it was nasty, you know? [laughs] In reality, I have to agree with Peter. If it wasn’t for Angus, bringing me in cold and Pixar and Disney not allowing me to know anything that I could pass onto fans or the press, I walked in there cold the night before I got a sheet with some of the dialogue, none of it quite made sense, it was one of five sessions. I thought I’ll knock this out in a half hour.
“Four hours later of sweat with each session, with Angus saying, ‘Try it like this [makes a sound],’ and working with me with each day, I learned more of course out of actors’ common sense, whatever we have, about what the character was about. And I had to piece it together. I haven’t seen a polished film yet and I’ll see it tomorrow night to see what the hell my character was all about. I have no idea.”
In terms of how familiar Chris Evans was with the Toy Story franchise before he took this role, he said, “I mean, I loved Buzz Lightyear, I loved Toy Story. When Toy Story came out, it kinda kicked the doors down in terms of a new approach to the medium. So I was thrilled and excited to know that there was more to come. And so to that extent, I loved all the characters in Toy Story deeply.
“If there were another character to play, I don’t think I could pull it off, but I was always a really big fan of Robin Hood, the old animated Disney movie Robin Hood. And I just thought Robin Hood was so cool, you know? I think of all the animated characters in the Disney library, Robin Hood stands alone. I think he’s just smooth and charming and capable and I don’t have that cool British accent, but I’d love to give it a crack.”
When asked about his favorite catchphrase between “Avengers assemble,” and “To infinity and beyond,” he said, “Oh, man. That’s impossible ’cause obviously ‘To infinity and beyond’ is something I knew well before ‘Avengers assemble.’ It was dear to me in much earlier chapters of my life.
“But as proud as I am to play this role and as honored as I am to be a part of this universe now, that line belongs to someone else. It almost kinda felt like I was wearing someone else’s clothes or something, you know? So you do your best to honor it and put your own spin on it. But let’s be honest, that’s Tim Allen‘s line. So personally, at least ‘Avengers assemble,’ I was the first one in the pool for that one.”
Jenna Busch has written and spoken about movies, TV, video games and comics all over the Internet for over 15 years, co-hosted a series with Stan Lee, appeared on multiple episodes of “Tabletop,” written comic books, and is a contributing author for the 13 books in the “PsychGeeks” series including “Star Wars Psychology.” She founded the site Legion of Leia and hosted the “Legion” podcast.