Why ‘Lightyear’ Had to Leave Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear Behind

Even after all Pixar has done, Toy Story co-leads Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) remain among the studio’s most beloved creations. So fans were shocked when Disney announced a new spinoff to the Toy Story franchise, Lightyear, without either Hanks or Allen. Here’s why Pixar’s latest had to leave Allen behind.

A person playing Buzz Lightyear and Tim Allen posing together in 2018
Buzz Lightyear and Tim Allen | Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

‘Lightyear’ stars Chris Evans as the ‘Toy Story’ spaceman

In December 2020, Disney announced that Chris Evans would voice Buzz Lightyear in a new movie titled simply Lightyear. Evans had, of course, only recently completed a nearly decade-long run as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, in another Disney-owned franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But this was something different.

With Lightyear, Evans would be stepping into Allen’s shoes. Unlike the Toy Story films though, Evans isn’t playing a toy version of Buzz Lightyear. Instead, Lightyear is a sci-fi adventure that inspired the toy seen in the Toy Story movies. In essence, it’s the movie young Andy saw that made him want a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday in the original Toy Story.

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Director Angus MacLane explains why Tim Allen didn’t return as Buzz Lightyear

This distinction between Allen’s “toy Buzz” and Evans’ “movie Buzz” has been oft-cited as why the recasting happened. Now in an interview with Vanity Fair, Lightyear director Angus MacLane reveals a bit more about the decision to bring in a different actor to play the character in this project.

“Tim’s version of Buzz is a little goofier and is a little dumber, and so he is the comic relief,” MacLane said. “In this film, Buzz is the action hero. He’s serious and ambitious and funny, but not in a goofy way that would undercut the drama. Chris Evans has the gravitas and that movie-star quality that our character needed to separate him and the movie from Tim’s version of the toy in Toy Story.”

To that end, the concept behind Lightyear — a movie that exists within the universe of a pre-existing, much-beloved movie series — is already perhaps a tough sell to audiences. Having Evans in the role creates a bit more separation from what’s come before, minimizing confusion. Moreover, having Evans’ MCU goodwill at play only further attracts audiences’ attention.

Could Chris Evans find himself as the lead in another franchise?

So far, Lightyear has earned characteristically strong reviews for Pixar. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie currently has an 76 percent rating. That puts it far below the four Toy Story films, the lowest of which (Toy Story 4) has a 97 percent Fresh rating. But if the love for this franchise translates at the box office, Evans could find himself leading a new franchise.

Although rumors continue to swirl, there’s no clear indication that Evans will return to the MCU anytime soon. In that case, playing Buzz Lightyear in a series of movies that allow him to take the character on thrilling sci-fi adventures akin to Star Wars might be a fun alternative. The real question is whether fans will support Lightyear in theaters.

RELATED: ‘Lightyear’: Chris Evans Shares Why it Was ‘Intimidating’ to Record Buzz Lightyear’s Iconic Catchphrase