Warning: Contains potential SPOILERS for Lightyear.
Pixar’s changes to Buzz Lightyear in the movie “Lightyear” may have been intended to fix the character, but the end result is actually incredibly disappointing. Throughout the Light Year, the titled space Ranger behaves quite differently from its original counterpart from Toy Story. However, while there is no doubt that some of these fixes add more complexity and depth to the character, the unintended side effect actually undermines one key aspect of his personality— the way he gives the impression of a hero.
In each of his various on-screen iterations, Buzz Lightyear had a potentially toxic hero complex. Whether it’s Tim Allen’s bombastic, forgetful and naive caricature from the first Toy Story movie, the more modest evolution that takes center stage in Toy Story 2, or Chris Evans’ updated version from Lightyear, Buzz’s heroism has always been tainted by sometimes questionable motives. For example, Lightyear’s need to be responsible for saving everyone from a hostile planet is actually born out of a sense of insecurity and inferiority. Similarly, his ego and need to prove himself were one of the main sources of conflict with Woody in the original Toy Story. This complex motivation is present in each of his five appearances on the big screen and helps make him such an iconic figure.
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Buzz’s imperfect heroism creates a connecting thread between Light-Year and previous toy stories. However, his portrayal in Lightyear actually unnecessarily reinvents one of the character’s most historically appealing qualities-his charming, clumsy stupidity. Chris Evans’ update, reflecting the overall tone of the film, is significantly more sincere, embodying much more stereotypical heroic qualities such as stoicism, loyalty and bravery. Not only were they already expertly portrayed by Tim Allen’s original Buzz, but Lightyear’s version of the character was stripped of much of the clumsy, forgetful comedy that made him such an icon. The end result is a Buzz Lightyear that seems stripped and hollowed out rather than “fixed”.
In many ways, the problems with “fixing” Buzz to make him a more traditional hero figure are illustrated by the actor chosen to play the character. Unlike Tim Allen, whose voice combined both seriousness and a spark of humor, Chris Evans is an actor primarily known for his straightforward actions. His version of Buzz may have much more in common with his rendition of Captain America from the MCU than with the kind-hearted but sometimes clownish original. Chris Evans is perhaps the perfect choice to portray a more straightforward heroic version of Buzz. However, by following this path, Lightyear loses much of the charm and humor that made the Toy Story version of the series so popular. As a result, trying to “fix” Buzz by making him a more realistic, human character actually destroys one of his most important character traits.
In previous installments of Toy Story, Buzz’s sincerity was a key source of humor. For example, Buzz’s “Spanish mode” activation provided much-needed relief during the tense escape sequence in Toy Story 3, and Buzz’s service belt from Toy Story 2 created several iconic farcical moments during Woody’s rescue. Juxtaposing Buzz’s natural seriousness with the contrived antics of the rest of the Toy Story team has historically created some of the funniest moments of the series. However, in Lightyear, the changes made to the character to focus more on his heroism than on his innate humor actually make him a weaker figure. Thus, many of the more lighthearted moments of the film are reserved for characters like Sox, the robot cat. On the contrary, this version of Buzz retains his problematic toxic hero complex without benefiting from the comedic relief that previously made him such a successful and irreplaceable character.
Perhaps the most important thing that Lightyear can’t understand is that Buzz’s inherent charm lay in his personality as a person trapped inside a toy body. In particular, in the first Toy Story movie, Woody’s annoyance that Buzz clearly couldn’t do all the things he claimed made the arrogant figure both cute and extremely disappointing. By necessity, Lightyear eliminates this central conflict. In Chris Evans’ version, there is no contradiction between the reality of a space ranger’s life and a “child’s toy” – he is a real man facing relatively real problems. Ironically, compared to a toy, Chris Evans Buzz feels much more two-dimensional and almost less human. In part, this change cannot be avoided, given the nature of the story. However, by “fixing” Buzz and turning him into a stamped action hero, Lightyear loses some of his greatest strengths as a character.