After two long years, Pixar is returning to the theaters with Lightyear, an epic sci-fi space adventure featuring Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear that audiences of all ages would love.
Before the film launches, 8List.ph got a chance to chat with Lightyear‘s director and screenwriter Angus MacLane and producer Galyn Susman to ask them some questions about the film ahead of its release.
On working together as director and producer
Galyn, as producer, what were you looking for when you chose a director?
Galyn Susman: For me, I’ve worked with Angus on several projects. This is not our first time around. And he’s an inspiration to me. I love his sensibilities. He’s an amazing director. He’s smart. He’s considerate of the crew. And he’s just a great storyteller and a lot of fun to work with. So my attitude was like, I would always work with Angus, and then he wants to do sci-fi. Well, it’s like he gave me a birthday present.
Angus, what made you want to take this project on? What was your vision for the film?
Angus MacLane: Well, I feel the same about Galyn. I think we have a really good working relationship. We didn’t have a script when we started. And in developing the story, it was a way to tell a sci-fi story and also revisit the Buzz Lightyear mythology, which I never had felt that had been completely explored in a way that was satisfying to me. And a lot of it is the design language of what we came up with is what it felt like what that world should be like at that level of polish. Like, what if it was real? How would it feel? How do you build up that world to be substantial? So that was really where we started from, and then uncovering what we’d want to see in a movie was really how we built the film.
On animation then and now
As we all know, the Toy Story films had such a groundbreaking effect on the world of animation. Was there anything in Lightyear that you couldn’t have even imagined being able to be animated like 25 years ago?
Susman: All of it.
MacLane: Oh, yeah. I mean, the subtlety of the animation is really challenging for this film. Part of it is the context for the sets and the characters’ costumes. There’s a level of polish and subtlety to the animation that’s really accomplished and challenging and just hard to do. This film has a subtlety and nuance to the animation that is only available by the level of practice that the team has had and the discipline that they’ve applied towards the film.
Susman: And we certainly couldn’t have done the cloth. We couldn’t have done the hair and some of the more sophisticated effects. Just a lot of the scale on the scope of something. Yeah, it would have definitely been out of our reach 25 years ago, for sure.
What are the challenges you faced trying to make a movie as it was in the 90s by using Pixar’s current technology? What kind of balancing act did you guys try to accomplish?
MacLane: We didn’t go overboard trying to replicate many limitations of effects of that era. More, it was a design sensibility of the cassette futurism of the 80s, and for it to be a chunkier, non-sleek, sci-fi world that felt manufactured and lived in. It was retro in that way.
The challenges were really very carefully creating all of the props and the sets and the characters to all be very cohesive and feel of the same world. And that just takes a lot of art direction and time to really make the world feel consistent. And because computers tend to make something really thin looking, and fragile and weightless if you don’t really manage it very much. So that was our goal.
On developing the characters
Which character took the most time to develop?
Susman: That’s tough. Because in terms of just building him and figuring it all out, it was Buzz.
But in terms of figuring out who the character needed to be, actually, it was Izzy. Because Izzy really is the cornerstone for [Buzz’s] arc in terms of his change. We had to figure out who Izzy needed to be to motivate that change and to still have her own story to tell. It took us the longest, because we really cycled on figuring out who Izzy would be.
On Sox the cat robot
So Sox is absolutely adorable. He’s the perfect, little sidekick. But where did the idea of Sox come from? Especially since Lightyear has always been such a very standalone ‘I work alone, don’t talk to me’ kind of person.
MacLane: That’s where it kind of came from. Originally, we needed Buzz to force him to talk to somebody. Sox predates Alicia, in that Sox is the first character that forced Buzz with somebody that is trying to get his attention and get him to come out of his kind of one-man army shell.
Susman: And if Buzz is skipping through time, it’s very helpful to have another character that’s not changing along with him so that he’s constantly relating to that same character. And so at that point, you kind of need something that’s not human.
MacLane: Plus, I just like cats, and a robot cat was funny. If you think about R2D2 [from Star Wars], the R2D2 doesn’t move all that much. Like the head rotates and that little eye nose thing. There’s a lot of charm to the limitation of, say, R2D2 that I find really compelling. And as an animator, characters with limited possibilities provide a lot of appeal and comedy through their limitations. So that’s what Sox was meant to balance both of those things.
On choosing Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear
What was it about Chris Evans that made you want him to voice Buzz? Why him instead of Tim Allen?
Susman: First off, when we first pitched this idea, there was a bit of confusion about what we were doing. Like, Is he the toy? Or is he not the toy? And we really wanted to make it clear that the Toy Story world and the Toy Buzz is its own thing. And this Buzz Lightyear is the character in the movie that inspired the toy. So first and foremost, we thought we should really voice the character with a different actor so that there wasn’t going to be that confusion.
And Chris brings so much to the table. He does superhero, obviously very well. He’s a phenomenal dramatic actor. He’s also really strong in comedy, and his comedic approach isn’t goofy. So it doesn’t doesn’t diminish the stakes that you would want to feel in a sci-fi film. So he was really just sort of a perfect casting for what we were looking for this role.
MacLane: Starting out, we made it clear to Chris right away: “We don’t want you to impersonate Tim Allen.” Chris just kind of did his own thing. And we really pushed him to bring what he could to the performance using his own take on it. If there were a classic line like “You’re mocking me, aren’t you?”, we would [draw some inspiration from] Toy Story. There’s only a few moments [of that], but the rest of it is pretty much trying to get Chris to do what he does best.
On nostalgia and referencing back to the Toy Story franchise
I love the little bits of nostalgia that you had throughout the film. How did you decide what throwbacks you would include in that film?
Susman: So a lot of it was that we wanted to take from the diluted Buzz, right? The Buzz when he doesn’t know that he’s a toy. And if you think about it, there’s not a whole lot of. And that’s only the first half of the first movie. So you think that there’d be so much to work from but there wasn’t as much as that. And there’s only so much of that that really fits within a sci-fi world. So we were pretty quick in terms of weeding things out and finding the things that we thought, oh, yeah, that’s a Buzz thing that would work whether you’re a toy or you’re a space hero guy.
MacLane: Yeah, there are some things that didn’t belong in the movie, but because narratively, [they didn’t fit] and felt like, that isn’t what would be happening in this story.
But there were things like crystallic fusion. It’s really small, subtle things that we felt were appropriate. And also, we didn’t want to have too many references where you’re like, Oh, I remember that from Toy Story like, right in the middle of it. So now you’re thinking about Toy Story. And you’ve lost the narrative thrust of what we’re thinking about for this film. So you’re thinking about it. And then very quickly, you start thinking about the movie that you’re watching. And that was really important to us.
On scenes cut from the film
At the beginning of the story, the turnip was heading home from a mission, but it wasn’t explored much in the film. Did you have a backstory for that? What other visions did you guys have that didn’t make it into the film?
MacLane: There was a scene where basically Buzz didn’t crash. They land and Buzz is the first one off the ship. Then a vine attacks him. And they basically decide that this place is no good. So they have a big town meeting, basically. Everyone’s asking, who’s going to take us home? And then Buzz raises his hand. And it was this really funny kind of town meeting, where all the Star Command people were kind of a bunch of whiners. They’re always like, this sucks. We hate it here. We gotta go home. Actually, I think we’re gonna put that scene on the Blu-ray.
But really, the turnip is narratively there just so Buzz can make a mistake. I didn’t really want to start him in the academy or explore too much before. We want it to really be like you’re in the middle of something. The movie used to start with him doing the first mission. But we really felt like we didn’t want to wait too long before you’ve got the Buzz Lightyear that you wanted. So we wanted to start it with a little bit of the Space Ranger action upfront before it’s taken away. So the audience also wants to get back to that like the characters do.
In Disney and Pixar’s Lightyear, we see the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the hero who inspired the toy and we follow his story as the legendary Space Ranger on an intergalactic adventure.
On June 15, 2022, the film is set to go into theaters and into infinity and beyond.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity and brevity.