Director Angus MacLane walks EW through the footage and teases the possible arrival of Emperor Zurg.

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Chris Evans is portraying Buzz Lightyear in a new Pixar movie called Lightyear. He's not playing the Buzz we know from Toy Story, but "the original Buzz Lightyear." That alone brings up a lot of questions. Fortunately, the film's teaser trailer and director, Angus MacLane, are here to shed more light on just how this is all coming together.

"'Set in the world of Toy Story' is kind of weird. Another way to get at it, it's a straightforward sci-fi action film about the Buzz Lightyear character," MacLane, who co-directed Finding Dory and multiple Toy Story shorts for Pixar, tells EW over Zoom. "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."

"The movie doesn't end and then you see Andy eating popcorn," the filmmaker clarifies. "This is its own thing… This is standalone. It's the Buzz Lightyear movie. It's that character but as the space ranger, not as the toy."

Based on what we know from the Toy Story films, Buzz, as voiced by Tim Allen, is a toy based on the Buzz of a popular sci-fi franchise, a character who's captain of the Universe Protection Unit of the Space Ranger corps from the Intergalactic Alliance. In December of last year, when the movie was first announced with Evans aboard in the starring voice role, Pixar revealed Lightyear to be the origin story for that character, "the young test pilot that became the space ranger we all know him to be today."

Lightyear
Chris Evans voices the Buzz Lightyear that inspired the 'Toy Story' figure in Pixar's 'Lightyear'
| Credit: Disney/Pixar

"When you hear about the Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story talk about his space ranger-ness or Star Command, it's very much a one-note amalgam of sci-fi cliches, which is the point of that movie," MacLane expounds. "If you were going to make that world real, you can't have it constantly feeling like it's this derivative thing."

The commonality he found through all the films is that "Buzz has a disagreement over the nature of reality." In the first Toy Story, Buzz believes himself to be a space ranger, while Woody (Tom Hanks) knows he's a toy. MacLane had previously directed the 2011 short Toy Story Toons: Small Fry, which introduced a miniature Buzz "that had the same kind of affliction," he says. "So, for us, the core idea that we wanted to build upon was, how do you have a character out of step with the world around them?"

There are other "surface things" that will connect Evans' Buzz to Allen's Buzz, like the iconic Buzz Lightyear space suit that appears in the trailer and the character's famous catchphrase. Evans is about to finish the "To infinity and beyond" line before the Lightyear trailer cuts him off. It's a move Disney likely borrowed from the Avengers movies, which routinely cut off Evan's Captain America from officially saying "Avengers, assemble!" until Endgame.

Lightyear
Poster for Pixar's 'Lightyear'
| Credit: Disney/Pixar

A version of Emperor Zurg, Buzz's infamous nemesis in Toy Story, likely plays a part in Lightyear, as well, though MacLane can't say much. "If the core elements of what Buzz is were to be paid off correctly, you would want to make sure that he had a laser, you'd probably want to make sure that he had rocket legs, and you'd probably want to make sure that at some point he had a recognizable antagonist," the filmmaker teases. "But of course, I'm not at liberty to say anything about anything at this time."

Beyond that, Lightyear, at its core, is meant to be an epic sci-fi movie. The trailer opens with a scene of Buzz locking into a rocket, powered by a mysterious crystallized energy source that allows him to shoot around the sun without getting burned. "Will it play a larger role in the film? Yes it will," MacLane says of that scene.

MacLane says he hopes to give audiences the kind of sci-fi movie he grew up watching from 1977-91, but with "more modern sensibilities."

Star Wars is a name that comes up in the conversation. A scene from the trailer shows Buzz and a droid hiding behind a collapsed tree trunk on an unidentified misty planet, one that gives off major Dagobah vibes from The Empire Strikes Back.

"I would say at Pixar, Star Wars was the common language when I started in '97. That was the thing that we couldn't get out of our minds," MacLane explains. "The world was forever changed once we saw Star Wars. It's pretty inextricable, that sensibility. I think that [parallel to Lightyear] isn't necessarily intentional. I'm not really interested in repeating stuff or reminding audiences of better movies, but there are a lot of visual lessons from movies of that era."

Lightyear
Chris Evans blasts off to infinity and beyond in Pixar's 'Lightyear'
| Credit: Disney/Pixar

For MacLane, Lightyear is "a distillation of things" he feels are cool. "The edict is, just make it awesome," he adds. "I feel like we've lost a sense of joy, unfortunately, in a lot of larger films. So, I try to instill that again."

"The phrase 'a dream come true' gets thrown around a lot, but I've never meant it more in my life," Evans said in his own statement. "Anyone who knows me knows that my love for animated films runs deep. I can't believe that I get to be a part of the Pixar family and work with these truly brilliant artists who tell stories unlike anyone else. Watching them work is nothing short of magic. I pinch myself every day."

Lightyear is set to premiere on June 17, 2022.

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