The folks at Pixar figured out a mighty clever way to make a Buzz Lightyear prequel. Rather than have Lightyear tell the story of the early days of Andy’s toy, this film actually features the movie character that would have inspired Toy Story’s Andy to want a Buzz toy to begin with. Essentially, Lightyear is to Andy what a film like Star Wars is to all of us.
In Lightyear, Chris Evans’ Buzz is a Space Ranger sent to explore a potentially resource-reach planet. When the time comes to head back to Earth, Buzz makes a bad call, a call that leaves his team of more than 1,000 individuals totally stranded on an unwelcoming planet. While most learn to accept their situation and find ways to build fulfilling lives on T’Kani Prime, Buzz becomes fully consumed by his desperation to right his wrong, even if it means letting life pass him by.
With Lightyear now playing in theaters nationwide, I got the chance to chat with Taika Waititi about his experience working on Pixar’s latest. Waititi steps in to voice Mo. He’s a member of the Junior Zap Patrol, a team of cadets who volunteer to do what they can to protect the people of T’Kani Prime, which isn’t much — until they meet Buzz.
Given that Waititi has some animated projects of his own on the horizon, two Netflix series based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the Oompa-Loompas, I asked him for some lessons learned from working with the greats over at Pixar. Rather than spotlight the company’s animation techniques, Waititi chose to emphasize their storytelling expertise:
“I would say the thing about Pixar that I’ve always been inspired by and come back to a lot, and also ripped off a lot when I’m trying to write stuff, is that their screenplays, structurally, are perfect. They get it right every time. It’s economical, emotional, and I’m trying to think of another E-word because I just realized that would be three E-words.”
I wasn’t especially thrilled with my third E-word suggestion during the interview, but perhaps “engaging” was an appropriate option given how highly appealing the whole idea behind Lightyear is and how it encourages viewers to play along. The story certainly had me thinking about the very first movies that inspired me to run out and buy an entire line of toys as a kid, like 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jurassic Park.
When asked for the first time a movie made him need to go out and buy all the toys as a kid, Waititi immediately pinpointed Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. As for which specific figures were top priority, one of his picks won’t come as much of a surprise.
“Han Solo, and then Boba Fett, obviously, was a big one. See, Return of the Jedi was really when the toys really took off for me, and that was very exciting. I remember also having an LP, a record … but it was a whole narrated Return of the Jedi and I’d like listening to that and reading along with the book.”
Looking for more from Waititi? Be sure to check out our full conversation in the video at the top of this article which includes more on Lightyear and also a brief tease of Our Flag Means Death Season 2.