Eschewing the typical sequel route, Buzz Lightyear next appears in Lightyear, rather than Toy Story 5. Here’s why that’s the right move for Pixar.
Pixar could’ve churned out Toy Story 5 and watched the cash roll in — instead, Disney’s animation icons took the preferable option of Lightyear. Released in 1995, Toy Story launched Pixar onto a global stage, revolutionized animation, and changed the face of Disney’s brand forever. The Californian studio grew from strength to strength with Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., Inside Out, etc., but Woody and Buzz remained ingrained into Pixar’s very soul. Toy Story 2 eventually landed in 1999 following Pixar’s near-fatal IT disaster, Toy Story 3 enchanted a whole new generation in 2010, and Toy Story 4 explored fresh, Andy-free territory in 2019.
As the Toy Story franchise shows little sign of losing momentum approaching its 30th birthday, Pixar would be remiss not to consider Woody and the gang for further big-screen adventures. So, Toy Story 5, right? Not exactly. After Turning Red, Pixar’s next 2022 release is Lightyear, a Toy Story project that couldn’t honestly be described as a sequel, prequel, reboot, reimagining, or revival. Lightyear is a movie based on Toy Story’s in-universe Buzz Lightyear backstory, where Star Command is a real organization, and Emperor Zurg is a genuine galactic threat.
Lightyear’s success will determine Pixar’s wisdom in developing a feature-length movie from a premise that takes 5 minutes and a notepad to explain. Toy Story fans might also ponder why Pixar opted for Lightyear when Woody’s Roundup was right there in front of them. Given a choice between Lightyear and Toy Story 5, however, Pixar made the correct call for Buzz’s cinematic future.
Why Pixar Is Making Lightyear Instead Of Toy Story 5
Toy Story 5 was Pixar’s best route for continuing Woody and Buzz’s battery-powered journey, so why take such a drastic risk on a mature sci-fi movie harboring only the loosest links to Disney’s past Toy Story efforts? Toy Story 4’s ending likely played a significant role in determining Pixar’s new direction, wrapping on a conclusive note, and dropping virtually no breadcrumbs that could be interpreted as teasing another sequel. No one at Pixar has publicly discussed Toy Story 5 as a project in development either, which suggests Woody’s emotional ending was designed as a period, not a comma. With Toy Story’s main narrative reaching its natural conclusion, Lightyear (which entered production as early as 2016) offers a way of keeping it alive.
Pixar may also be motivated (at least in part) by the ongoing sequel vs. original debate. Between 2010 and 2019, seven of the eleven movies Pixar released were sequels to its most famous properties, including Finding Dory, The Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 3 & 4. This sequel-heavy run prompted the studio to pledge its immediate future toward original movies only, which meant Onward, Soul, Luca, and Turning Red arriving across the space of two years. Commercial success during that period was stunted considerably by COVID-19, but critical reception also proved surprisingly more muted than Pixar has become accustomed to (though still largely positive!).
Lightyear offers the best of both worlds. On the one hand, Pixar benefits from the evergreen popularity of the Buzz Lightyear character, and all the Toy Story brand power our favorite Space Ranger brings. On the other, Lightyear’s premise provides an opportunity for novelty and creativity. Buzz’s solo movie isn’t beholden to Toy Story canon, promises a new spin on the character, and peddles a tone closer to WALL-E than Toy Story. Maybe Lightyear is Pixar finding a middle-ground between original storytelling and sequel branding.
Why Lightyear Is Better Than Toy Story 5
You could pack a whole green army men tub full of reasons Pixar shouldn’t make Toy Story 5. Pixar sequels haven’t always lived up to their esteemed animated predecessors. Still, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 bucked Hollywood’s notorious trend of diminishing returns, joining Back To The Future as that rarest of cinematic treats: a trilogy that maintains its quality. Toy Story 3 ends with a devastating emotional goodbye between Andy and Woody, the lifelong pals people have followed since 1995, finally going their separate ways. Andy leaving for college and Woody finding the toys a loving new owner seemed like the perfect place for Pixar’s toy yarn to end, and the studio spent many years claiming Toy Story 4 wouldn’t happen.
Toy Story 4 happened anyway and, similar to the third movie, offered a seemingly definitive ending. Still, despite garnering positive reviews, Toy Story enthusiasm took a slight dip for the first time. Pixar got away with Toy Story 4, but a fifth entry in the series would surely be a reach too far in terms of how many emotional non-endings people are willing to accept.
Narratively speaking, it’s also difficult to see how Toy Story 5 could come together. The last time people saw Woody and Buzz Lightyear, Pixar’s premier partnership went their separate ways, with the Space Ranger leading Andy’s gang back to Bonnie, and Woody getting his happily-ever-after reuniting with Bo Peep. Toy Story 5 would need to bring everyone together again, and there’s no easy way to achieve that without looking incredibly contrived.
Toy Story 5 is a pretty terrible idea, but what makes Lightyear better? Disney recognized the potential in Buzz Lightyear’s fictional origin long ago, producing the 2000-2001 animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command – essentially Lightyear before meta was cool. Pixar put such effort into creating the backstory Buzz believed so wholeheartedly in Toy Story, that it would be a shame not to explore what his world-within-a-world looks like given the full Pixar bells and whistles. Lightyear was inevitable at some point, the material is too good for it not to be.
Lightyear is unique in balancing the fresh and the familiar. Pixar has never taken such an epic, action-adventure-orientated direction before. As people have seen over the past two years, original projects carry considerably more risk than sequels (even if they’re creatively more fulfilling and provide audiences with better variety). For all the new territory it breaks into, Lightyear can guarantee support from the Toy Story faithful, and will generate headlines purely thanks to its loose association with Toy Story.
Will Lightyear Lead To More Toy Story Spinoffs?
It would be naive to assume Lightyear taking the box office to infinity and beyond wouldn’t trigger a raft of Toy Story spinoffs – and there are certainly plenty of options to choose from. A Forky TV show is already lined up for Disney+, but Woody’s Roundup should be next on the agenda, tackling the western genre just as Lightyear approaches sci-fi. Joined by Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete, a Woody’s Roundup movie or TV series would see the smiling Sheriff face down evil prospectors and animal-stealing bandits in the Wild West, becoming the cowboy hero that inspired Andy’s favorite doll.
With all due respect to Hamm and Wheezy, meta Toy Story spinoffs based on toys’ backstories are probably limited to Lightyear and Woody’s Roundup. Nevertheless, Pixar does have options for continuing Toy Story 4’s narrative in a less direct way than Toy Story 5 would. Christina Hendricks’ Gabby naturally became one of Toy Story 4’s most compelling new additions, and there’s spinoff potential in her future adventures, perhaps seeking redemption following her villainous actions against Woody and Bo Peep.
The fate of future spinoffs depends largely on Lightyear. Though the Toy Story association guarantees an audience, it doesn’t guarantee acceptance. Moviegoers may reject Pixar removing the “toy” part from Buzz Lightyear’s toy story. And while it’s hard to imagine Lightyear flopping, box office remains an unpredictable beast in 2022. Toy Story is too big to sit on Pixar’s shelf, but if the franchise must continue, spinoffs are infinitely preferable to Toy Story 5.
Is Lightyear A Sequel Or A Reboot?
Since Pixar is moving away from Toy Story 5 for the sake of Lightyear, many are left wondering if the latter is a sequel or a reboot to the Toy Story franchise. It’s a tricky question to answer, but the upcoming movie Lightyear is more of a prequel than anything else. Since the film is going to follow Buzz Lightyear the in-universe movie character, not the toy, it’s both a part of and separate from the Toy Story universe. In terms of a prequel, the movie is technically an origin story, used to explain who the Buzz Lightyear toy is modeled after, but the events of the movie don’t directly affect the toys’ emotional journey. It’s an intriguing choice to make this Buzz Andy’s favorite movie character, showing ingenuity on Pixar’s part. Since there’s not really a way to bring the Toy Story gang back together with a sequel, Lightyear is a much better route for keeping the franchise alive.
The story of Lightyear follows the star of the movie that inspired the action figure, Buzz Lightyear, on a mission with his ambitious new recruits and a robot cat pal. There’s no doubt that the prequel/reboot will contain Pixar’s trademark humor and family-friendly themes. Lightyear is in theaters, so those who grew up with the Toy Story series can gain fresh insight from the new movie, and newcomers will get to experience Buzz Lightyear’s exciting origin that frames the toy in a new light.