The Marvel-fication of Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear

And the worry that stirs. Do we need a heroic origin story for a toy that's already found some resemblance of peace?
Buzz Lightyear Trailer

Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry looks at the new Lightyear trailer from Pixar and considers how it suggests a thirsty infatuation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, really, who can blame them?

What the hell goes on when we turn our backs on our toys? The original Toy Story proposed the question and answered it by revealing the generational anxieties between a cowboy and a spaceman, Woody and Buzz Lightyear. Westerns were out; science fiction adventure was in. A raggedy pull-string doll couldn’t possibly compete with an action figure featuring more points of articulation than good sense. But what Woody had going for him was awareness. He knew his role as a toy, whereas Buzz Lightyear thrived in a delusion, believing desperately in the plot that some manufacturer scribbled on his package.

When Woody freed Buzz’s mind, the pathetic toy spiraled into an existential crisis. Who am I? What’s my purpose? Twenty-six years and three sequels later, the original Buzz is still trying to process that bubbling confusion. Although, let’s stop right there for a minute. Our Buzz, it turns out, is not the original Buzz. He was a toy based on a real person? Or, at least, he was a toy based on a popular sci-fi film that Andy presumably watched before the events of the first Toy Story began?

Pixar has chosen to splinter from the Toy Story franchise with Lightyear, and “the sci-fi action-adventure presents the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear — the hero who inspired the toy — introducing the legendary Space Ranger who would win generations of fans.”

The Lightyear Trailer Sure Does Look Familiar

The Lightyear trailer dropped this week, and it’s flashy, overly rendered, and far more serious than many were seemingly expecting. Featuring the voice of Captain America, Chris Evans (although he barely gets in a mutter here), Lightyear immediately drew comparisons to Pixar’s Disney-owned sibling brand, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it is freaking a few folks out.

Okay, that’s a long leap from the wide-faced, big-eyed, dopey can-doism perpetrated by our Buzz. This Lightyear is dogged determinism, channeling the space race heroics of Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Carol Danvers. And, yes, several shots recall sequences from the lives of Marvel’s two captains.

Lightyear putting his eyes on his suit for the first time, echos the moment in The Avengers when Steve Rogers gazes forlornly at his new, S.H.I.E.L.D. sanctioned Captain America uniform. The scene where Lightyear wistfully ogles his shuttle through the window seems tethered to Captain Marvel peering from her Kree homeworld apartment highrise. There’s even a bit where Lightyear (and a robot partner) peer over a rock in the same fashion Iron Man does during his bombastic coming-out party in Gulmira.

In fact, there’s a lot of intense, purposeful staring. That’s how you know Lightyear is a hero. He’s thinking real hard, taking in as much information as he can, processing it, and putting his game-face on before going out there and saving the day. Champions don’t just punch hard, they think hard, they stare hard, they walk hard (uh, sorry, wrong movie, but also, yeah, that too).

Examing the Human Buzz Lightyear

Pixar pushing Lightyear as an earnest adventure story a la Guardians of the Galaxy rankles because it negates Buzz’s Toy Story therapy. We’re back in the delusion, the fantasy our beautifully gullible action figure fought to shed. Wrapping him within a Marvel Studios aesthetic feels like strapping Buzz into a straight jacket. We don’t need an origin story; we’ve got enough of those.

Since the film was first announced in 2020, a nervous shiver has rippled throughout the internet. And Pixar and Chris Evans are utterly aware of that restless strain. Last December, the actor assured his Twitter followers that this Lightyear is not our Buzz, “This is the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on.”

The HUMAN Buzz Lightyear. Huh. So, he’s a real dude? With a chin like that?

Not only is he a real dude, but we know Lightyear’s blood type. If you zoom in on the shot in the trailer revealing his dog tags, it’s right there in cold steel: O Positive, the most common blood type. He’s an everyman right down to his blood cells. Pixar wants us to look at this Lightyear the way we would Captain America or Captain Marvel. He’s lionhearted, one of Earth’s mightiest offerings.

Buzz Travels Outerspace to Find Innerspace

Our crinkly, uncomfortable feelings can easily be negated if Lightyear is a damn good time at the movies. If Pixar delivers a heartfelt, action-adventure romper the way they did with The Incredibles, Up, and Onward, then our worries are a moot point. And considering that the studio holds more wins than losses, we really shouldn’t doubt Lightyear‘s quality.

There is a longing to be out there in the stars again. The final frontier has returned. Outerspace exploration inevitably leads to Innerspace contemplation. We want what Captain Kirk, Peter Quill, and Carol Danvers found in deep space: meaning, purpose, escape from this burning third rock from the sun.

The Lightyear we witness in this trailer is clearly looking for something. Again, so much staring! The gaze indicates an emptiness within, a void that requires filling. This longing is felt by every one of us, and it’s at the center of the original Toy Story. We are meant for something; we just gotta go find what that something is.

Lightyear could be Pixar’s Star Trek, and not Captain Marvel or whatever. They’re using the Marvel Studios aesthetic as a shorthand, indicating an adventure saga slightly aged up from their usual adventure sagas. This seriousness contradicts the Toy Story style, and that is initially disagreeable but not necessarily detrimental. As long as they provide.

Lightyear is scheduled to launch into theaters on June 17, 2022.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)