Lightyear, Disney and Pixar’s upcoming animated feature about the “original” astronaut whose life story inspired the line of toys bearing his name, seems very much like the sort of movie that Toy Story’s Andy Davis — who was heading off to college when last we saw him — would be unabashedly excited to see. Even though this “new” Buzz doesn’t quite sound like the one from Andy’s childhood, it’s clear from Lightyear’s first trailer that they’re both pieces of the Buzz Lightyear™ brand and mythos that the studios have been tinkering with for well over two decades.
One of the curious things about Lightyear is how much surface-level resemblance it appears to bear to Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins, director Tad Stones’ direct-to-video animated feature from 2000. The Adventure Begins, which opens with Andy’s (now Bonnie’s) toys sitting down with Buzz (Tim Allen) to watch it on a VHS tape one day some time after Toy Story 2, delved into the larger universe where the iconic astronaut’s adventures take place — a universe protected by Star Command and its fleet of top-notch space rangers. The Adventure Begins skips past Buzz’s origin story and picks up at a time when he’s already one of the most highly-regarded rangers in Star Command, and really only sees his partner, Warp Darkmatter (Diedrich Bader) as his equal.
Together, Buzz, a stickler for rules, and Warp, a less-than-thoughtful hothead, normally make the kind of well-balanced team that Commander Nebula (Adam Carolla), and Star Command’s countless Little Green Men (Patrick Warburton) need to win the war against Emperor Zurg (Wayne Knight). When a trio of LGMs go missing, Buzz and Warp are the obvious choice to track the lost aliens down to a far off planet where they discover three more LGMs stowing away on their ship, hoping to assist with the rescue mission. Though Buzz is The Adventure Begins’ main character, Mark McCorkle, Bob Schooley, Bill Motz, and Bob Roth’s script puts considerable effort into fleshing out the world around him, because it presumes that you more or less know the basics of who Buzz is by the time you start watching.
The Adventure Begins’ turns the LGMs, who were first introduced in Toy Story are rather eerie alien toys fixated with the claw within the machine in which they were all trapped, into a fascinating fixture within Space Command’s command hierarchy. Because the LGMs all share a telepathically-linked hive mind powered by a massive object located on their homeworld, they’re able to operate seamlessly as they develop new technologies key to Space Command’s defences, and to the space rangers’ survival. That same telepathic link plays a vital role in how Buzz and Warp are able to find their lost colleagues, but the mission quickly goes sideways and ends in Warp’s clearly-telegraphed death, which convinces Buzz to swear off ever working with a partner again.
Even though The Adventure Begins introduces elements of his “life” that Toy Story’s Buzz never got around to mentioning, its story tries to make you understand how Buzz came to be the somewhat egotistical, overly headstrong person he was when he first appeared on the big screen. The Adventure Begins wraps Buzz’s cockiness up in the survivors’ guilt he attempts to hide from Commander Nebula and others within Star Command, like his starstruck stan Booster (Stephen Furst), who works as a janitor, and Mira Nova (Nicole Sullivan), who does double duty as both a ranger and as princess of the planet Tangea.
As The Adventure Begins brings Buzz, Booster, and Mira together, its story falls into the familiar patterns of spin-off movies that subsequently become short-lived episodic series. Capable and competent as Mira is, Buzz refuses to accept her as his new partner, partially out of fear that she’ll meet the same fate as Warp. But it’s also because part of Buzz more than enjoys the degree of hero worship people tend to heap on him for his solo feats. The LGM’s Experimental Ranger “XR” (Larry Miller) takes all of its cues from Buzz as it learns how to best be the ideal space ranger, but even though the machine’s working to be like Buzz, The Adventure Begins’ story highlights how XR can’t help but become his own person with his own skills, particularly after he’s destroyed and haphazardly put together by the LGMs after they lose their mind link.
As Buzz’s focus turns towards discovering what happened to the LGMs’ telepathy, The Adventure Begins gives each of its other characters opportunities and showcase what makes them just as invaluable as Buzz is to Star Command’s overarching mission. To his credit, Buzz never exactly doubt things like the usefulness of Booster’s obsessive memorization of Star Command’s protocols, or the effectiveness of Mira’s specialised, phasing-focused combat techniques. Instead, he’s reluctant to take a step back and let his allies do what it is that they’re good at, and understanding that about himself is one of the bigger challenges Buzz faces.
It isn’t until Buzz is properly down and out that he comes to understand that how much of a mistake trying to keep Mira, Booster, and XR at a distance, regardless of what his specific intentions were. Faced with Zurg and his new “mysterious” ally, Agent Z, Buzz can’t deny that working together with others simply gets the job done better, an idea that Buzz’s toy counterparts have similarly struggled with in Pixar’s movies. What’s going to be interesting to see is how that aspect of Buzz’s personality is going to carry over into Lightyear, a movie that seems much more in line with the likes of Interstellar, The Martian, and other features about supremely-competent men hanging out in space.
Though Lightyear appears as if it’s going to dig some into Star Command’s inner workings and the alien worlds Buzz and other rangers explore, it also seems like it might be a project more designed to build up and revolve wholly around its titular character, which could work. Again, though, we all know Buzz Lightyear, and the new film, like The Adventure Begins before it, is going to have to find a way to make the curly-chinned man a character worth paying attention to.
Lightyear hits theatres on June 16, 2022.