Nobody was curious about the backstory of Buzz Lightyear. In the reality of Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear is a sentient toy, who, even within the universe of Toy Story is fiction. The backstory of Buzz Lightyear is that he was a mass-produced piece of plastic made in a factory by an equally fictional toy company. But not anymore! If you were wondering about the “real” Buzz Lightyear — the one who exists within the meta-fiction upon which the fake toy is based — well, then, Pixar has a (pointless) movie for you! Although this project was announced eons ago, there is now a trailer for the Chris Evans-led Pixar movie Lightyear. And it’s the most misguided and artistically bankrupt family movie created in recent memory.
It is, of course, possible that Lightyear will end up being entertaining but that hypothetical entertainment will have to be qualified with entertaining but unnecessary. The real problem with Lightyear is it misses the point of Buzz Lightyear. Back in 1995, Buzz Lightyear was funny because he was an homage to an outdated type of sci-fi hero, in the mold of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. The writing of Toy Story was aware of this joke, which is why Tim Allen’s portrayal was so great; the idea of Buzz Lightyear is that his existence skewered and mocked an archetype that was intrinsically silly and antiquated. This meant when the toy simulacrum of Buzz moved beyond his archetypal personality, Toy Story was minutely subversive. (Recall, Buzz was kind of the villain in the first movie.) The fact that Tim Allen then played an arrogant faux-Captain Kirk figure — Commander Taggart — in another metafictional science fiction comedy, Galaxy Quest (1999), isn’t a coincidence. Toy Story was pretty much Allen’s audition for Galaxy Quest.
But, crafting a straightforward Buzz Lightyear movie makes about as much sense as making a non-comedy version of Galaxy Quest. What if Pixar made an unironic cowboy movie about Woody from Toy Story? How awful would that be? Imagine the trailer: a slowed-down version of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” while a younger Woody gears up with a serious, hardcore horse. Maybe he even considered wearing a white hat or a black hat. You get it. Using the strange, halting version of David Bowie’s “Starman,” in the Lightyear trailer is pandering and boring. Sure, Bowie sang about space a lot, but can we stop using him as the default for all outer space things all the time? In other words, can we stop ruining the audio science fiction Bowie created and just let it be its own thing? (For example, “Moonage Daydream” is in Guardians of the Galaxy, “Space Oddity” is in fucking everything.)
The existence of Lightyear proves the subtlety and social commentary of Toy Story have been steamrolled into something that was never intended. Mr. Potato Head exists in the Toy Story universe, too, but you don’t want to see a movie about HIM, in HIS world. As an animated science fiction movie, Lightyear could, maybe, diverge from its source material enough to try and make it into something new-ish. But because the corny phrase “to infinity and beyond!” is still part-and-parcel what this is about, it’s hard to take this trailer seriously. Right now, Nickelodeon has a new Star Trek cartoon aimed at kids called Star Trek: Prodigy, and when Captain Janeway says “to boldly go” that isn’t intended as a joke, because it never was. Buzz Lightyear is a spoof of that boldly going tradition, and he should remain that way. Do you want a straight Spaceballs movie?
What’s funny about the character of Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies is the way a braggadocious space hero is dropped into a world where he’s not top dog. Putting him back in his own origin story, and marketing it to people as faux retro-futurism is bizarre. Both Incredibles movies had the good sense to make their antiquated superheroes into has-beens. With Lightyear, all sense of irony, and wit seems to have been sucked out of what was once a clever concept. We’ve always known there’s nothing beyond infinity, but with this trailer, Pixar proved it.
Lightyear hits theaters in Summer 2022.