On November 22, 1995, Toy Story was released into theaters and changed the world of animation forever. Before this film, few people knew what Pixar was despite the company having been founded almost ten years prior. After its release, Pixar quickly became the new gold standard for animation and animated storytelling. Audiences and critics have agreed that Pixar is unique because almost all of its early releases told powerful and profound stories fit for everyone. Although their films were animated and marketed toward children, Pixar also told stories appealing to adults. The stories challenged children and treated them like adults, which is part of the Pixar magic that connects to viewers of all ages. Some of my favorite Pixar films are the original Toy Story Trilogy, Up, and Inside Out because they showcased the incredible range of storytelling, filmmaking, and characters, all of which made it nearly impossible not to fall in love with these films.
However, business is business, and when you have a brand that releases hit after hit the way Pixar does, one can’t be too surprised that the powers at be would want to find ways to keep these stories going. These films play a significant role in the company’s legacy and as theme park attractions and merchandise. Except for the universally championed Toy Story 2 & 3, most Pixar sequels have been considered less than when compared to the original. A few notable examples of this include Cars 2, Finding Dory, and Monsters University. While I am not saying audiences didn’t like some or all of these films to varying degrees, it is hard to dispute that almost everyone you ask would agree these films didn’t have the same level of Pixar magic as their predecessors.
Despite a noticeable dip in quality, the films mentioned above have always been connected to what came before or after. They didn’t try to reinvent history or change the narrative. They were all part of a collective canon that made sense. This brings me to the subject of this article, Disney and Pixar’s Lightyear. Lightyear is the first Pixar film in its 27-year history that yearns to be viewed as a standalone project and yet can’t help but remind the viewer that it is connected to a previously established franchise. I found this to be problematic for many reasons.
Problem One: The opening title card
The opening title card in Lightyear reads, “In 1995, Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”
This title card instantly connects the film to Toy Story because if you don’t know Toy Story exists, why does this title card even appear and mention Andy? The quote used to explain the film by director Angus MacLane, who, when asked about Buzz Lightyear’s voice during the press conference, said, “I imagined this was a movie that then later was a spin-off cartoon. And then the Toy Story toy was made from that cartoon design because that very much was how it would be in the 80s and early 90s. There would be a big-budget movie, like a serious movie, and then would get ported to a tv show. It’s not diminishing anything about it, but it does feel like the events of what happens on the back of the package for Buzz Lightyear don’t happen in this movie. And that’s like a future story.”
Right off the bat, this doesn’t make any sense based on how the title card reads. Lightyear was Andy’s favorite movie, so, therefore, he saw this movie. Sure, the toy could have been from an animated series inspired by the film, but the card clearly states this is his favorite movie. So, Andy has seen this movie and loves it.
Problem Two: The supporting characters
Going along with the idea that the television series inspired the toy, we now have to wonder why the other characters from the movie were not featured in the animated series or were not given toys. I’m honestly not trying to start a problem here, but this narrative doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. We all know that some tv shows based on movies don’t always feature all of the same characters from the movie but saying that only Lightyear and Zurg exist suggests a much larger problem because this removes all the people of color and LGBTQ characters from the “animated series” or “toy line.” And for a film that already got a lot of backlash for trying to remove a lesbian kiss which led to a massive movement, it certainly isn’t the best look to suggest this when the two WHITE characters were the only ones that were made into toys or were part of the animated spin-off that launched a toy line.
Author side note: I liked a lot of the characters in this film, but I had a major problem with how the POC or LGBTQ characters didn’t have enough backstory. They were all sort of glanced over and thrown into the whole “Buzz must right his wrong” narrative.
Problem Three: Sox the Cat
Almost every single review or reaction that I have read from Lightyear mentions how much everyone loves Sox the Cat. So, this ties into my above point. Even if you didn’t include all of the side characters in the animated series or a toy line, it is nearly impossible to believe that there was no Sox the Cat toy and that Sox wouldn’t exist within the Toy Story universe. It makes no sense because, as everyone has stated, Sox steals the show and is a cute animal sidekick character that would have been the perfect accessory to any Buzz Lightyear toy. This point is regardless of whether it was based on an animated tv series or movie. Sox the Cat would have existed.
Problem Four: Continuity
Lightyear relies heavily on callbacks to the Toy Story franchise. From the whole “To Infinity And Beyond” catchphrase to Buzz Lightyear talking to himself through his arm walkie-talkie. These moments and many others are staples of the Toy Story franchise, and they only make sense within this movie if you have seen the Toy Story films. However, the biggest problem with continuity is how the film handles Zurg. While I can’t go into great detail at the risk of ruining the movie for others, I will say that what it does with this character makes little to no sense in how it connects to the Toy Story franchise. And if this were Andy’s favorite movie, he would know the backstory of Buzz Lightyear’s villain since Zurg plays a significant role in the franchise, and his story arc created for this film isn’t referenced in any other Toy Story film, show, or short.
Furthermore, there are various life lessons that Buzz learns in this film, like working with a team that makes little to no sense when incorporated into the Toy Story universe. This Buzz Lightyear animated series that “apparently” existed and led to the creation of the toy had to have storylines that went beyond Buzz walking around and fighting with Zurg. He had to work with the Galactic Alliance, so it takes away from the plot point of Toy Story, where Buzz must learn to work with Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys. I could give more and more examples, but you get the gist.
Lightyear could have easily been created as a standalone Buzz Lightyear film set in the future. As an origin story, the way the script recreates iconic moments makes it impossible not to compare it to what has come before. And for the record, Lightyear isn’t necessarily a bad film, and my criticism isn’t with the way the film looks, but rather how the writers completely ignore the history that Pixar has created with this character. Lightyear feels like a cash grab, and it immediately made me fear that the Toy Story franchise could be next in line to be rebooted like Star Wars.
Toy Story made Pixar a household name and was a major part of the evolution of computer-generated animation. The success of Pixar films eventually led to the extinction of Disney’s hand-drawn animation division in 2011. Toy Story and its two sequels should be protected because they are the foundation of Pixar’s legacy and what that brand has become today. Suppose audiences start becoming passive about how films like Lightyear reinvent history and forget things that came before. In that case, there is a very distinct possibility that we will end up with another Star Wars-sized issue in the near future. Sometimes you have to look past the dollar signs and protect the property that made you one of the most beloved and iconic animation studios in film history.