[Article] How LIGHTYEAR Embraced the Thriller & Sci-Fi Genres
Courtesy Dolby
Pixar’s Toy Story has been one of the many definitive animated franchises for millennials and Gen Z-ers since it first dropped in 1995. With each new installment, we’ve gotten further depth and explanation as the franchise has aged with its target audiences. Heck, Toy Story 3 nearly broke us. With the arrival of Toy Story 4, many wondered whether this would mark the end of this franchise. It is not. Instead, we have the incoming LIGHTYEAR film. And, with its arrival, many have wondered what this latest addition is going to add to the franchise and why Buzz Lightyear.

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.

Recently, Nightmarish Conjurings took part in the two-part global press conference for LIGHTYEAR. Moderated by Erik Davis of Fandango, the press conference featured Chris Evans (voice of “Buzz Lightyear”), Taika Waititi (voice of “Maurice ‘Mo’ Morrison”), Keke Palmer (voice of “Izzy Hawthorne”), James Brolin (voice of “Zurg”), Peter Sohn (voice of “Sox”), Dale Soules (voice of “Darby Steel”), Composer Michael Giacchino, Director Angus MacLane, and Producer Galyn Susman.

© 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The question on everyone’s lips has been, “Why Buzz Lightyear?” And so, it came as no surprise that Davis would ask how Director Angus MacLane landed on the idea of developing a film around the origin story of one of Andy’s favorite toys. The answer, as it so turned out, was a need to create something fun for the director. But also, a general curiosity for the character that is Buzz Lightyear:

“I wanted to make something that was fun to make after doing [Finding] Dory, which was fun, but it was really challenging when you have a protagonist that’s always forgetting about what they want. 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? 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, sci-fi goodness that we want to see in the movie. That was the initial pitch, and from there, that was the simple idea that we sold within the studio.”

A sci-fi action adventure is always a good time. And it makes all the world of sense that this film would be the one to inspire a young Andy to go out and get the much-coveted Buzz action figure. That said, how does one tackle narrowing down the feel of the film? With the film being deeply rooted in the science fiction genre, of course, the influences the team could pull from were endless. Producer Galyn Susman explained that they didn’t look to a specific sci-fi property for inspiration, but instead looked at the scope of the genre, which would explain why LIGHTYEAR comes across as so referential:

© 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

“’80s sci-fi, we love it. We grew up with it, or [MacLane] grew up with it, and I was already old with it. I love it. [T]here’s such an immersive, tactile, interesting feeling about those films. [From] Star Wars absolutely going all the way until Aliens. 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 admitted that they did start off in a slightly more sinister place, but the vibe and genre-focus evolved with further development:

“Narratively, we focused at the beginning looking at thrillers and what made thrillers work. Sci-fi is often just like a mayonnaise that’s spread over the film. It’s not a specific genre.”

Condiment comparisons aside, the thriller narrative was just one element looked at. There were numerous references the team pulled from as they started to build the foundation of LIGHTYEAR. The team looked at films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark as well to try to pick apart where to start in order to capture the right vibe before plunging viewers into the film’s universe.

Ultimately, the goal for the team, as MacLane explained during the conference was to try to make viewers care about Buzz Lightyear’s journey. Without the heart, the emotional hook, why would anyone stick around? And, with critics out there praising the film, it seems the team succeeded on that front in LIGHTYEAR. Now just prepare to drop some coin on those dolls once they start popping up in stores again!

LIGHTYEAR opens only in theaters on June 17, 2022.

Sarah Musnicky
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