Did Buzz Lightyear need an origin story? Probably not, but that didn’t stop Disney and Pixar from linking up to create Lightyear—yet another animated film that kids will watch over and over again. The OG fans of the Toy Story films might be skeptical about going into Lightyear, though, especially since Tim Allen won’t be voicing the space ranger this time around. And no one feels that pressure more than the film’s star, Chris Evans.
Evans is no stranger to these larger-than-life superhero roles like his work in Captain America, and while he has done some voice acting in the past in shows like Robot Chicken, the Disney animated film was a much bigger challenge for him to take on. When talking to the actor about his latest role during a virtual press junket, Evans told Complex he was feeling “overwhelmed, humbled, and intimidated” ahead of the film’s release.
“It’s scary territory to kind of enter specifically because I’ve never really had the responsibility of such a character. I’ve done one voice before actually, maybe two, but they were small roles so this is obviously a little bit more of a weight,” Evans tells Complex. “It’s a character that has already been played by someone very, very well so you have big shoes to fill but at the end of the day, you just put your trust in Pixar and trust that they know what they’re doing.”
Evans was tasked with the hefty responsibility of giving Buzz a backstory while displaying his humanity and the feelings and emotions we didn’t get to see from the toy in the other films. The actor previously said in an interview with Variety that when he just started working on the project, he attempted a “shameless” impression of the way Allen delivered his iconic lines in the films. Along the way, and thanks to the new, more introspective story the film is telling, the actor found a way to make the voice his own and gave the character new life. In the four Toy Story films, Allen voices a Buzz Lightyear toy that was inspired by the real-life character Evans is portraying.
Lightyear focuses on a young astronaut who was stranded on a hostile planet Tikana Prime with his commander and crew. Buzz volunteers to test out a hyperspace fuel that they would need for their vessel in order to find a way back home. The fuel is so powerful that it makes him time travel and he soon realizes that four years pass by during each attempt, causing him to miss out on life in his colony. As his friends and crew, including his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba), get older and move on with their lives, Buzz stays the same age and ends up alone in his mission to save them.
“It starts with the writing, doesn’t it? The Pixar script is so wonderful that you have really personal intimate moments,” Evans tells Complex. “I mean it’s one thing when you’re doing iconic lines like, ‘To infinity and beyond’ or ‘You’re mocking me, aren’t you?’ You can’t help but kind of embody what Tim did. But there are wonderful scenes in this movie where he’s being more internal and thoughtful and reflective and as an actor you do the things you do, and you have your own internal thoughts and after of couple takes, before you know it, you are kind of breathing life into something personal. You almost can’t help it.”
People who grew up watching the Toy Story films that started in 1995 are the ones who most likely have a deep connection to the character and his voice. Some people were not pleased with Disney’s decision to not cast Allen for this role. Everybody Loves Raymond actress Patricia Heaton took to Twitter recently to express her disappointment in the casting choice, saying Allen should’ve continued voicing the role. “Saw the trailer for Buzz Lightyear and all I can say is Disney/Pixar made a HUGE mistake in not casting my pal Tim Allen in the role that he originated, the role that he owns,” Heaton tweeted. “Tim IS Buzz! Why would they completely castrate this iconic, beloved character?” But after watching the film, it makes sense that a different person would be used to voice the real person behind the toy we know and love.
Evans understands that while it was a huge responsibility for him to voice the real-life version of the person who inspired Andy’s toy, it was more on the studio to tell a story and build a character that would satisfy satisfying the franchise’s diehard fans. “Luckily those challenges are a little bit above my paygrade,” the actor says. “That’s the tricky thing about these types of movies. You only have kind of one crayon to color with, you are just using your voice.”
Voice acting is all about delivering enough emotion to make the character impactful, but we’ve seen lately how powerful animated characters and films can be when they are done well. In Evans’ case, he put all of his faith and trust in the studio to get it right. “Every time I would come in for a session there would be massive script changes. That’s the beauty of Pixar filmmaking, it’s like this potter’s wheel. They take four years and you do a whole session, you do the whole script and then you come back and they say, ‘Okay, we all got together and had meetings and we’re going to tweak all these little knobs,’” he says. “So you are just kind of along for the ride but you certainly have in your mind this hope that you checked those boxes but again, there’s only so much you can affect when all you’re doing is sitting in a booth reading lines.”
During his adventure, Buzz meets some ambitious recruits Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), and Darby (Dale Soules) that help him carry out his mission. The relationship that grows between them is one of the most moving parts of the story, and shows that even the best person for any job needs support sometimes to get them through. When doing animated films, the cast rarely gets to interact with one another and that was the case for this film. Palmer and Evans’ characters build a meaningful connection with each other throughout the movie. Thanks to the Disney magic, it feels as if they have a great chemistry between them, but the actor says they never met until the night of the film’s premiere.
“Unfortunately, doing these voice acting roles, I didn’t meet them until the other night at the premiere. You don’t read with anybody. When you’re in the booth you’re by yourself so it’s a challenge,” he says. “Sometimes some of the best stuff in filmmaking comes from those in-person interactions and spontaneity and listening. So with these movies, you’re really just kind of in a vacuum, giving different deliveries, and then it’s up to Pixar to kind of put the puzzle together.”
This is supposed to be the movie that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy line that Andy has in the Toy Story movies. But the film is more upsetting than it is uplifting and kind of makes you feel sorry for the way Buzz spent his life. Sure, he was heroic and determined to help his people get back home but he lost a lot along the way. In the end, Buzz’s story shows us what a lonely place space can be.
Lightyear is now in theaters.