The Old ‘Buzz Lightyear’ Movie Shares a Surprising Amount in Common With ‘Lightyear’
The new Pixar movie has a clever premise. Lightyear is supposed to be the movie that Andy saw in 1995 that made him want the Buzz Lightyear toy he got in Toy Story. In the same way a kid might fixate on owning an Arnold from Terminator 2: Judgment Day (to name one example that is definitely me), Andy wanted a Buzz.
It’s a fun concept, but it’s also not quite as novel as it might appear. More than 20 years ago, Disney and Pixar collaborated on a direct-to-video film titled Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins. While Lightyear and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command do differ in some key ways — and Lightyear’s modern computer animation looks, well, lightyears better than Buzz Lightyear of Star Command’s 2D hand-drawn images — they share a surprising number of similarities in terms of plot, character, and that basic premise of a fictional movie that exists within the world of Toy Story.
Lightyear only briefly addresses its connection to Toy Story in a series of three short title cards that begin the film. (“In 1995, Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”) While the rest of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins is comprised of cheap-looking hand-drawn animation, the film opens with a short prologue of 3D animation by Pixar. It features the Toy Story cast as they sit down to watch the movie we’re about to watch — Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.
The Little Green Army Men bring a VHS tape of “the new action-packed Buzz Lightyear movie” into Andy’s room, and Woody pops it into the VCR.
That brief sequence pretty much explains the differences between the two movies: One is big and lavish; it looks beautiful and it features big-name voice acting talent like Chris Evans. The other is a quickie cash-in VHS title that barely runs an hour and looks like junk (although it does at least feature the original Buzz, Tim Allen, as the voice of its Lightyear).
When you actually sit down and watch Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Continues — something I do not recommend you do, it’s not especially good — you see it shares a lot with the new Lightyear. I doubt the creators of Lightyear drew direct inspiration from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. The odds are more likely they both drew their inspiration from the Buzz character in the first two Toy Story movies and arrived at parallel conclusions about the type of story they could tell, and the types of characters they should place around him. Still, the sheer number of similarities are a little eye-opening.
The specifics vary but the basic plot lines are nearly identical. Buzz Lightyear is a loyal and dedicated Space Ranger protecting the galaxy as part of the peacekeeping force Star Command — who also prefers to solve problems on his own without assistant from anyone. When a mission goes wrong, Buzz blames himself, and then is infuriated when he is teamed up with a group of inexperienced misfits who do not live up to Buzz’s personal image of what a Space Ranger should be. While Lightyear initially hates his new partners, all of whom are wacky goofsters, he slowly comes to appreciate the value of friendship and teamwork, leading to a climactic triumph that cements the new group’s alliance.
Remember how much ridicule Chris Evans got on social media when he said that his Lightyear was “the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on? The ads for Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins went even further than he did! They claimed that their junky direct-to-video spinoff was, in fact, “the story of the real Buzz Lightyear.”
Yes, it’s the story of the real Buzz Lightyear. Did you know Buzz Lightyear was a historical figure? He was! Who else did you think protected us from Evil Emperor Zurg?
It gets even more specific than that. Buzz has exactly three sidekicks in each movie — including a robot whose antics serve as the primary source of comic relief. In both films he has the prickliest relationship with the female member of his team (Nicole Sullivan’s Princess Mira from the direct-to-video Buzz Lightyear and Keke Palmer’s Izzy in the big-screen Lightyear). There’s even a twist in the both movies that I will not spoil — but both are almost mirror images of one another.
Again, I’m not accusing Pixar ripping off Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. But it is interesting to see how similar these two movies are — and to note that the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command movie is the only Toy Story movie or television special that’s not currently available on Disney+. Whether it’s a rights issue, or it’s not up to the company’s modern standards, it’s certainly a convenient omission. If you want to see a movie about the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on, you have to go watch Lightyear in the theater this weekend.