Buzz Lightyear is fully formed and more than a toy in the Toy Story spin-off

A still from the Disney film Lightyear. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

SINGAPORE - Buzz Lightyear is not a toy. That is the reminder American actor Chris Evans gives. The film-makers, too, say as much.

At a recent online press event, they were asked why the title character sounds and acts so different from the Buzz seen in the four Toy Story films (1995 to 2019). In those films, he is voiced by actor and comedian Tim Allen.

Evans, 41, who voices Buzz in the new movie, says Allen was "amazing" in the Toy Story film series. But the movie Lightyear, which opens in cinemas on June 16, exists in the Toy Story universe as the science-fiction hit which inspires the creation of the tie-in action figure.

"This movie is supposed to be what the toy was based on," he says.

"So there is some connective tissue between this role and the role in the Toy Story world. You want to make sure your character has some echo of what Allen did, but there was a reason for the character being the way it was."

In the Toy Story movies, made by animation studio Pixar - the same studio behind Lightyear - Buzz the action figure is a goofy sidekick to Sheriff Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks.

The film-makers have explained in other interviews that in Buzz's origin story, he should be a fuller, more rounded character.

Evans, who rose to global prominence playing the superhero Captain America (Steve Rogers) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films (2011 to 2019), says Lightyear explores the main character in a nuanced way.

"The Buzz we know from Toy Story is a toy. And as a toy, he's perfect, he doesn't have to worry about disease. But the choices we make as people are more consequential," he says.

In the film, space ranger Buzz Lightyear is marooned on a dangerous planet with a team that includes Alisha Hawthorne (voiced by American actress Uzo Aduba). While Buzz tries to find a way to escape, the rangers encounter a hostile force of robots commanded by Zurg (voiced by American actor James Brolin).

One member of Buzz's rag-tag team of defenders is Maurice "Mo" Morrison, voiced by New Zealand actor and film-maker Taika Waititi, 46.

Like Evans, he uses a more natural speaking voice with his character - and that included using his New Zealand accent.

"Well, as a proud New Zealander, I'm proud of my accent. As a lazy actor, it's the only thing I can do," he says with a laugh at the same press event.

"I used to get relieved when people told me I can use my own accent because it's more natural and I just enjoy better ad-libbing. When I'm doing another accent, I think too much while I'm doing it."

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His natural accent can be heard as the alien Korg in the Marvel film Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and in Thor: Love And Thunder (2022), which opens in July. He also directed both films.

One of Lightyear's themes is about being so preoccupied with a grand, heroic endeavour that one forgets to live in the here and now.

It is an idea that strikes a chord with Waititi.

"Yeah, I've made mistakes in my time. I like the idea of wanting to be a hero to someone. What really resonates the most for me is this idea of seeking something that's out there, not tangible and real," he says.

"You know, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side."

The film has attracted attention over scenes in which a supporting character, the space ranger Alisha, is shown to be in a same-sex relationship. This has caused the film to not play in 14 Asian and Middle Eastern countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, and the United Arab Emirates., where the portrayal of same-sex relationships is frowned upon.

In Singapore, it has been given an NC16 classification (which restricts entry to those aged 16 and up), the most stringent given to a Pixar film.

Speaking at a separate online press conference, producer Galyn Susman and director Angus MacLane held their ground over the scenes. The brief montage, which also shows a kiss between Alisha and another woman, is essential, they argue.

Susman says the montage is a poignant reminder of what Buzz has chosen to give up. "It's about showing Buzz what he doesn't have - a loving, meaningful relationship," she says.

MacLane says the montage is a "reflection of the world we live in". Science-fiction entertainment, as seen in groundbreaking shows like the original 1960s Star Trek television series, has a tradition of breaking boundaries.

The co-director of animated hit Finding Dory (2016) says: "Science fiction was always my entree into a more diverse society. And it's in that spirit that we try to find the most diversity we can in our cast."

Lightyear opens in cinemas on June 16.

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