The animator opens up about going to infinity and beyond (again) with Chris Evans' space ranger.
Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans) gets a little lost in 'Lightyear'


Sun's out, fun's out! EW's 2022 Summer Preview has dozens of exclusive looks at the most anticipated TV shows, movies, books, and music of entertainment's hottest season. Continue to visit throughout the week for more previews of what you'll be watching, reading, and listening to in the months to come.

Angus MacLane has a long history with Buzz Lightyear. The Pixar veteran has been working at the studio for more than two decades, and not only did he serve as an animator on Toy Story 2 and 3, but he even directed the CG portions of the intro for the animated Buzz Lightyear cartoon. So, when it came time to direct his first solo feature film, MacLane already had a certain Space Ranger in mind.

"I've been tethered to this character for so long," MacLane, 47, says. "It just keeps coming back to me."

Buzz's latest adventure is Lightyear (out June 17), an ambitious sci-fi epic that once again finds Pixar going to infinity and beyond. Chris Evans – Captain America himself, making his Pixar debut — voices the cosmic adventurer, who's stranded with his crew on a distant planet. As he tries to make his way home through space and time, he also finds himself facing down an intergalactic threat.

Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Sox (Peter Sohn), and Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) in 'Lightyear'
| Credit: Disney/Pixar

The Buzz of Lightyear isn't the lovable plastic hero of the Toy Story series, voiced by Tim Allen. This Buzz is the galaxy-hopping Space Ranger who first inspired that toy, and MacLane says his goal was to make the movie that Andy would've geeked out over in the original Toy Story: a sci-fi epic with the power to inspire the same kind of fervor as Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones. The result is an ambitious adventure that has Pixar shooting for the stars.

"If you just follow Buzz Lightyear the Space Ranger — the character before he meets the toys and start to change — it's a pretty thin, two-dimensional character," MacLane explains. "It's a caricature of the sci-fi lore that I grew up with and enjoyed, and that was kind of the point. So we knew we needed to come up with some way to dimensionalize that character. We'd get really sick of the character if he had no depth to him, or if he was just like, 'Here I come to save the day!' That kind of daring, unflappable superhero character would be easy to dismiss."

To find the right tone, MacLane and his team looked at some classic sci-fi-adventures, but mainly they studied iconic thrillers, including early Alfred Hitchcock hits like The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, and North by Northwest. Thrillers aren't a genre that Pixar is necessarily known for, MacLane admits, so they wanted to fully embrace it, and raise the stakes for Buzz.

"One of the things that I learned from working with Brad Bird on The Incredibles was how important it was to portray the protagonists as looking like they were concerned for their safety," he explains. "He would reference a bunch of older films and performances in particular, where the protagonist looked like they thought they were going to die, and therefore, the audience felt concern for their safety. That was something we were really trying to infuse into this movie — building a world where you're worried for the characters. Buzz, in his two-dimensional form, can be like, 'I'm not worried about anything! I eat danger for breakfast!' but that didn't do a lot to help us in that arena."

Fortunately for Buzz, he's not facing that danger alone. He has a robotic feline companion named Sox, voiced by longtime Pixar staple Peter Sohn, and he also teams up with fellow Space Ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) and Alisha's granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer). Lightyear made headlines earlier this year when news broke that Alisha would be a lesbian character in a relationship with a woman, and at one point, a kiss between the two women was reportedly cut, only to be restored after the outcry over Disney CEO Bob Chapek's response to the Florida "Don't Say Gay" bill.

MacLane says Alisha's queerness has always been a key part of the character, and in addition to being a step forward for LGBTQ representation on-screen, it's also pivotal to the plot.

"I wanted Buzz to have a best friend, and my personal preference was that Buzz not have a romantic partner," MacLane explains. "There have been other movies where the hero partners up with a really cool side character, and that side character is diminished [by romance]. I wanted him to have a partner where you would know they didn't have a romantic relationship. So, in additional to being wonderful representation, Alisha's queerness was useful, narratively."

"I love how the character turned out because she is such an emotional engine for the movie," MacLane adds. "We worked really hard to get it right."

Ultimately, MacLane says, he hopes Lightyear inspires a new generation of sci-fi and adventure fans, the same way he fell in love with the genre as a kid. "I just wanted to make something that was fun," he says. "You spend so long on these movies, and I just wanted to do something that was a combination of all the inspirations that I'd been really into."

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content:

Buzz (voiced by Chris Evans) gets a little lost in 'Lightyear'

Chris Evans goes to infinity and beyond in this Pixar film about everyone's favorite Space Ranger.

  • Movie