Toy Story is one of the world’s most favorite animated franchises, and one of Pixar’s best movies, but no one was expecting a Buzz Lightyear movie. That’s why the world was in for a surprise when Disney announced the Toy Story spin-off called Lightyear. What was even more surprising was the revelation that Lightyear would not focus on the animated toy from the four Toy Story films. Instead, Lightyear was announced to tell the story of the hero that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure.
Update September 11, 2022: The article has been updated with new information following the release of Lightyear.
Captain America actor Chris Evans provides the voice for the human Buzz. Released in June 2022, Lightyear explored the backstory of the famous space ranger. But before the film’s release and even after there was much confusion about what kind of movie Lightyear exactly is. Many questions were raised regarding how Lightyear is connected to the rest of the Toy Story franchise, and while the marketing department did its best with later trailers there is a chance that audiences did not quite understand which led to the film underperforming at the box office. Here is how Lightyear connects to the wider Toy Story franchise.
Is Lightyear a Movie in the Toy Story Universe?
To make things clear Lightyear is not a part of the Toy Story universe, but it is tangentially connected. The events depicted in Lightyear exist as a fictional movie that takes place in the Toy Story movie. This is the movie that Andy saw as a child which inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy line. The director of Lightyear, Angus MacLane, shared with Entertainment Weekly exactly what that means:
In the Toy Story universe, it would be like a movie that maybe Andy would have seen, that would have made him want a Buzz Lightyear figure.
While initial press releases and statements from the crew made the identity of Buzz Lightyear in Lightyear unclear, with the word ‘real’ was used leading many to believe that he was a real person in the Toy Story universe. MacLane’s comments have clarified that Buzz has always been a fictional character both in our world and in the Toy Story world. While Pixar fans may wish to see the return of Andy and his Buzz Lightyear action figure, MacLane stressed that Lightyear was made as a truly standalone film. The director described Lightyear as a movie about Buzz Lightyear “as the Space Ranger, not as the toy.” This is why the only Toy Story character in Lightyear other than Buzz is Zurg as he is part of the toy line inspired by the Lightyear film.
Is Lightyear a Toy Story Prequel?
Lightyear should not be considered a prequel as it does not take place in the same universe as the four Toy Story films. Robots, spaceships, and real aliens were never a part of the Toy Story movies. In the first Toy Story, the film’s Buzz Lightyear initially believed that he was a real Space Ranger and not just an action figure. Woody had to help the action figure realize that he was a toy based on a fictional character.
Lightyear, however, has depicted the Buzz Lightyear who actually was the Space Ranger. The Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story and the Buzz Lightyear from Lightyear were two different characters who have also been voiced by different actors. Lightyear‘s Buzz lived the life that the Buzz character in Toy Story originally thought he lived. This is why in Lightyear, the first lines Buzz says at the beginning of the film are what his toy counterparts say when he first arrives in Andy’s bedroom, as he believes he is partaking in the story seen in the film.
Marketing for Lightyear avoided referring to the film as a Toy Story prequel. Instead, marketing materials have consistently used the more appropriate term of Toy Story “spin-off” or emphasized the film being what Andy saw in the universe of Toy Story. It may be disappointing news for fans who wished to see more connectivity between Toy Story and Lightyear. But Lightyear could be viewed as the catalyst for all events in the Toy Story films. Since Buzz Lightyear was already a fictional character in the Toy Story universe, perhaps Lightyear was released in that world and exploded in popularity, in turn selling countless action figures. One of those action figures was then given to Andy and eventually became best friends with Woody, joining Andy’s crew of toys. In that way, Lightyear could be considered a prequel.
How is Lightyear Connected to Buzz Lightyear?
The Toy Story films established the fictional human character of Buzz Lightyear as a Space Ranger in the Galactic Alliance. Because the films have always focused on the toy Buzz, there was plenty of room for Pixar to tell a brand-new origin story using the character. The suit worn by Lightyear’s Buzz has been relatively unchanged from the suit worn by the action figure, apart from being presented in a new art style. The movie does see Buzz acquire aspects of his traditional costume, like his wrist laser and jetpack wings which at the end of the movie are incorporated into the traditional Buzz Lightyear suit seen in the Toy Story films. Additionally, the action figure shared the human Buzz’s love for flying. In Lightyear, the human Buzz Lightyear is a Space Ranger and a test pilot. The heroic, adventurous spirit of Buzz Lightyear has remained intact.
Lightyear does make drastic changes to the character of Zurg, a character who had an animated action figure appear in Toy Story 2. The beginning of Toy Story 2 revealed Zurg as Buzz Lightyear’s greatest enemy who is revealed to be Buzz Lightyear’s father as a homage to The Empire Strikes Back. In Lightyear the origin is changed for Zurg to be Buzz from the future, thematically tying into Buzz being his own worst enemy. Zurg also previously appeared in the animated series, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command which also undid the father twist.
While Lightyear has changed much from the series and creates its own supporting cast for Buzz and is not needed to enjoy the movie it can be seen as a similar companion piece in the Toy Story universe. Lightyear can be seen similarly to Ghostbusters, with Buzz Lightyear of Star Command being like The Real Ghostbusters animated series which inspired a popular toy line the same way the Buzz Lightyear franchise got in the Toy Story universe. Toy Story introduced the world to the Buzz Lightyear toy, and Lightyear let audiences peek into the world that inspired a boy in 1995 to ask for this toy on his birthday.