When I woke up today, I expected my kitchen to be a mess because I binged The Morning Show instead of cleaning it last night. Despite it already being Wednesday, I was also prepared to be overwhelmed by the truckload of tasks I have yet to cross off my to-do list this week. What I was not ready for was Pixar releasing a trailer for a Buzz Lightyear movie that would make the internet stop in its tracks and collectively gasp, “What the fuck?”
Disney announced Lightyear last December, but I hadn’t actually spent any time thinking about it until the first trailer dropped this morning. It’s gritty and existential, with vibes somewhere between Interstellar and Ad Astra, backed by David Bowie’s “Starman.” It could almost be an entirely new sci-fi movie, except for Buzz’s green and purple space suit teased at the very end. It’s an origin story within an origin story, not for an action figure, but for the character who inspired it. In real life. But in a movie, which is fake. Truly we live in cursed times.
The confusion all stemmed from a now infamous December 2020 tweet by Chris Evans, who voices Buzz in the new movie. “This is the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on,” he wrote. That could have meant anything at the time. In the context of today’s trailer, people took it to mean that Toy Story took place in a futuristic sci-fi world where Earth’s heroes included a man fighting aliens in space.
Buzz Lightyear the toy was, if you recall, a piece of merchandise that starred in Pixar’s original 1995 Toy Story and was voiced by Tim Allen. A child named Andy gets him as a birthday gift. Unlike Andy’s other toys, Buzz thought he was an actual space man. This pissed off Tom Hanks, a cowboy doll, who was jealous of his rival’s battery-powered gimmicks. Eventually they figured things out and lots of profitable sequels and real-life merchandise and licensing deals ensued.
“If this is the story of the in-universe astronaut that led to the popular toy line, presumably all of this stuff happened *before* the events of Toy Story 1 in 1995,” wrote game critic Chris Franklin on Twitter. “So retroactively does Andy live in some sort of spacebase-having scifi world?”
Adding to the confusion is the existence of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, a cartoon that already depicted Buzz as a real-life space ranger. It takes place in the future, and to my knowledge doesn’t position itself as an animated show that exists within the Toy Story universe.
“This is the in-universe cinematic reboot of the Buzz Lightyear cartoon, obviously,” wrote Twitter user Zenistrad in response to Franklin’s tweet.
It all sounds very complicated, and in some ways it is, but in others it’s pretty simple, almost frustratingly so. “Toy story 1 does not take place in a world where interstellar travel is not only real but also alien battles regularly happen,” former Kotaku esports blogger Maddy Myers wrote on Twitter. “That isn’t a thing in that movie. we all know this please stop pretending you don’t know this.”
Lightyear director Angus MacLane explained it to Entertainment Weekly. “The movie doesn’t end and then you see Andy eating popcorn,” he said. “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.”
There is no Toy Story cinematic universe, in other words. Lightyear is not canon. It’s just Disney telling the story of a character who could have inspired the toy that went on to exist in Toy Story, like Pixar’s Elseworlds or something. It makes perfect sense unless you start overthinking it, so the key is to barely think about it at all. Except I can’t stop thinking about it.
This is the curse of living in a media environment where giant global conglomerates are so desperate to make big bets that guarantee even bigger payoffs that they revert to the backstory for a fictional toy to package their next big summer blockbuster. I don’t want to treat everything like some small fragment of a licensed multiverse, but it’s literally the only way to make sense of most modern cultural touchstones. So I’m not surprised that this was how most of us tried to digest the Lightyear trailer. In some ways it’s less grim than the alternative: that there’s no reason for the movie to exist at all.