It’s hard to think of an animated character that is more iconic than Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear. Voiced by Tim Allen, Buzz is goofy, optimistic, relatable, and undeniably lovable. So when Pixar and Disney announced that Buzz was getting his own feature film, entitled simply Lightyear, fans were naturally overjoyed. Understandably, it also came as a bit of a shock when news broke that Allen wouldn’t be voicing Buzz this time around — that the character would be played by Chris Evans, instead.
Tim Allen and Buzz Lightyear Go Way Back
Allen first played Buzz almost thirty years ago when the first Toy Story film came out. Since then, he’s voiced the big-hearted, adventurous space-ranger-figurine in a whopping total of 17 different projects — from video games like Toy Story Racer (2001), to shorts like Toy Story Toons: Partysaurus Rex, and sequels galore. However, when it came to Buzz’s newest solo film, Disney had a wildly different idea for his casting.
What is Lightyear?
Directed by Angus MacLane (Finding Dory), Lightyear follows a young version of the Buzz Lightyear that Toy Story’s beloved toy is based on. In this film, Buzz is tasked with finding his way home from a strange planet lightyears away (get it?), while also attempting to stave off a dangerous extraterrestrial threat.
The film, which will be released on June 17th in theaters, stars Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, and Isiah Whitlock Jr.
So Why Isn’t Allen Returning to the Franchise?
While Tim Allen’s controversial political statements have been a part of his public persona for the last several years, Disney’s decision not to bring him on board Lightyear had nothing to do with his politics, as he was recently cast in a new Santa Clause TV show for the streamer.
In a recent press conference, Lightyear producer Galyn Susman explained that a lot of thought had gone into the casting of Evans. “Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear the toy,” she said. “We weren’t making a Toy Story movie. We’re making Buzz Lightyear’s movie. And so first and foremost, we just needed a different person playing that Lightyear, separate from the toy.”
Director Angus MacLane had an additional explanation as to why Buzz needed to be played by Evans, specifically. This time, he said, Lightyear is “a little more well-rounded. Technically he’s a bit smarter because he’s not comic relief. He has to be funny, but not too goofy. And that’s why we went with Chris.”
Chris Evans on Kickstarting a New Era for Buzz Lightyear
Back in December of 2020, Chris Evans took to Instagram to announce that he’d be tackling the role of Buzz in Lightyear. He starts off by addressing the elephant in the room – that this role typically belongs to Tim Allen. “My team could barely contain their excitement when they told me that Pixar had a pitch for me,” he recalls. “All they said was ‘Buzz Lightyear.’ I didn’t know what that meant, since Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear, and no one could ever touch his performance.”
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Evans added that Allen was an informative part of him stepping into his own understanding of Buzz. “I used Tim Allen as a guideline,” he said. “He did such a good job, and I’d be a fool not to acknowledge the work he did. But I couldn’t just do a shameless impression. I had to somehow create my own understanding of the character, and try to make some fresh tracks in the snow while paying homage to the great work that he did.”
Although Evans told Variety reporter Angelique Jackson at the Lightyear premiere that: “The first time you have to do that iconic line, ‘To Infinity and Beyond…,’ you kind of just do a shameless Tim Allen impression,” he closes his Instagram post with an assurance that Lightyear is very much a novel take on the character – and also a worthwhile watch. “Trust me when I say that they REALLY know what they’re doing over there,” he writes. “This one is gonna [be] special, and it doesn’t step on a single thing. I can’t even put my excitement into words. I smile every time I think about it.”
And if you love Evans’ take on the character, you’re in luck — this may not be his last stint in the animated Disney world. When asked at a press conference about other Disney characters he’d love to play, Evans said: “I was always a big fan of the old animated Disney movie Robin Hood. I just thought that Robin Hood was so cool. I think of all the animated characters in the Disney library, Robin Hood stands alone. I think he’s just smooth and charming and capable. I don’t have that cool British accent, but I’d love to give it a crack.”
Lightyear arrives in theaters Friday, June 17th.