Director Angus MacLane Calls Chris Evans 'Such A Joy' as Buzz in Lightyear, Pixar's Love Letter to Sci-Fi Adventure Movies

The animation giant seeks to create a celebratory action-adventure classic that will evoke childhood thrills.

by | October 26, 2021 | Comments

To infinity…and beyond! And, also back to the beginning.

Pixar’s 2022 release Lightyear may be far-flung into the future with the interplanetary adventures of Buzz Lightyear and Star Command, but you can also imagine it as a movie existing within the Toy Story universe, watched by little Andy and millions of other kids — exactly the thing to jumpstart the Buzz Lightyear action figure craze that holiday in 1995.

“What was the movie that Andy saw when we made Toy Story?” Lightyear director Angus MacLane always wondered. “Why don’t we just make that movie?”

After co-directing Finding Dory, MacLane is getting his chance. With the first trailer now dropped and revealing a window into the world of Buzz (now voiced by Chris Evans) and his space rangers and robot kitty sidekicks, we talked to MacLane about launching one of Pixar’s beloved flagship characters like it’s the first time.

Alex Vo for Rotten Tomatoes: When did Lightyear development start at Pixar?

Angus MacLane: It was after after Finding Dory. I’d always been attached to Buzz since I started at the studio. I always really liked animating that character. And as a huge sci-fi movie buff, I’d always wondered what is the sci-fi action-adventure version of Buzz Lightyear that would be fun and be appropriate for the character, but also be brought into three dimensions, character-wise? A straightforward sci-fi action-adventure movie that was what we all liked as kids, and still like.

Lightyear really is a story that’s very personal. It’s meant to be, more than anything, a really fun movie in the way that I work in movies because I like movies. I like watching movies. And I really want it to be something that’s enjoyable and fun, and it would just stay with you, and it would just be something you would go and see again. That sense in movies like when we were kids. Lightyear is a love letter to the process, and a love letter to movies.

Rotten Tomatoes: What different aspects of Buzz’s character did you want to explore?

MacLane: There’s a core idea about Buzz that we noticed when we really drilled down looking at all of the Toy Story movies: That Buzz has a disagreement over the nature of reality. In the first Toy Story, he believes he’s a space ranger when Woody says he’s a toy. In the second movie, they had to bring in another Buzz Lightyear to kick-jumpstart that again. And he had to convince his other self that HE was a toy. And there’s Spanish Buzz in 3, and then the inner monologue in 4. That was a bedrock for something we knew we needed to pay off.

Buzz is somebody who takes his job very seriously, and is very much a rule follower. And has a steadfast belief in himself. There’s these tropes of that kind of hero that we’re recognizing, feeding on, and playing with. But he’s such an amalgam of weird sci-fi cliches. How do you make that more than a punchline? That was really the charge of film.

(Photo by Disney)

Rotten Tomatoes: When did Chris Evans come on board?

MacLane: Really early on. He was the first choice, pretty much as soon as we knew we were going do it. And he came up, drove up to Pixar. And we hung out for a day and pitched him the movie. And he was thrilled. He really was. He totally got what we were going for. He’s been just such a part of the process of honing that voice and recognizing the reverence to what it could be, and what the character should be, and taking that seriously, and finding the comedy in the character of it, and not in mockery. But because of his gravitas and star power, because of who he is a a performer, he knows how to carry that straight-laced classic movie hero. But at the same time, he’ll know how to subvert it and make fun of it at the same time, in a very knowing way. It’s not a subtraction for the character.

It’s been such a wonderful experience. He’s such a joy. And he’s an animation fan. He at one time considered being an animator, so he was really interested in the process. You don’t always get that. It really helped to show him the sequence in storyboards, and he’d say, “I got it.” He could just do it. Especially action scenes. He’s so good. I can’t say enough great things about Chris Evans. I’m so glad he said yes.

We’ve seen spaceships from Pixar before, like the Axiom and EVE’s ship in WALL-E, but nothing yet like this in the more classic sci-fi realm. What were the design considerations going into this?

MacLane: The two things I was focused on were making them cinematic and making them chunky. With the movies that I grew up with, the design language is really informed by making models of the ships. So going into Lightyear, the first ship we constructed, we got a model maker who used to work at ILM to build a ship. And then look at what choices he made and how to get those levels of material thickness into the film.

I collect art books, and I would find these really nice art books of classic anime ships. And you’d see the robots drawn and they were awesome. And then you’d see them modeled as CG and they’d fall apart, because there wasn’t that material thickness in those designs. That was really a thing I wanted to chase, was how do we make this world feel tangible, thick, and real in the way of those movies in that era. Because they had to build that stuff.

Rotten Tomatoes: When did you know you were going to be directing this film?

MacLane: I knew when they agreed that they wanted to do this pitch. So five and a half years ago. It’s not a big deal to keep it quiet, because we’re so trained to not say anything. It was harder during COVID because my kids didn’t know what I was working on, and they’d be like, “I think I saw Buzz Lightyear! What was that?” So I was able to keep this really quiet forever.

Lightyear is out in theaters June 17, 2022.

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