Lightyear director Angus MacLane has experience working on Pixar sequels and spinoffs, but they’re not projects he would recommend to new filmmakers.
In an interview with GameSpot, MacLane shared a little bit of insight into the creative process and development of movies like Lightyear and Finding Dory, highlighting the challenges that a filmmaker faces when lifting a pre-existing character from one film or franchise and dropping them into their own standalone movie or an origin-style spinoff.
“As a filmmaker, you really have to think about what problems you want to solve,” he said, speaking from experience. “When we took on [Lightyear] we ran into the problem of having to change a side character to a main character and that’s a really hard thing. Having worked on [Finding Dory], that was just tremendously hard.
“But because Buzz’s backstory was something I wanted to tell, and because I wanted to do a straightforward sci-fi action-adventure, you know, like a nerd/geek film, that was the driver there,” he added. “So that’s what kept it going, even when we still hadn’t figured it out. Because I knew what the movie would feel like when it was done.”
In acknowledging some of the potential hurdles that can be encountered when stepping outside of a familiar space, MacLane said he wouldn’t encourage directors to get involved with indirect sequels and spin-offs early on in their filmmaking careers because it is such a challenging undertaking. “I really wouldn’t recommend it,” he admitted, “It’s so, so hard.”
Lightyear: Visual Progression of the Pixar Animated Film
Lightyear was a big movie for Pixar as, besides it taking place in the beloved universe of Toy Story, it’s also the first film Pixar has released in theaters since 2020’s Onward. The movie didn’t generate much buzz at the box office though and ultimately failed to hit its projected numbers, opening with $51 million at the US box office, plus $34.6 million in other territories.
MacLane noted that it can be difficult to satisfy audience expectations when crafting a spinoff because people often resort to what they already know of a film franchise or character. “I think it’s funny to hear people ask things like ‘how is this compared to Toy Story?’ because when you see the movie, you realize it’s its own thing,” he explained.
“I think it would be even harder if it were the Toy Story Buzz going off into this movie, you know? Then you’d be like ‘where’s Woody?!’ Because that’s what makes [Toy Story Buzz] work. I could see a different version of this movie that’s maybe a bit closer to the Buzz Lightyear: Star Command TV show,” he added. “But I think that works much better for a shorter format.”
Lightyear explores the definitive origin story of legendary space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) — the hero who inspired the toy. The movie is kept afloat by “strong performances and attractive visuals” that will “keep kids and adults alike entertained,” according to IGN’s review of Lightyear, “but the story isn’t the quality you’d expect from Pixar.”
Adele Ankers-Range is a freelance writer for IGN. Follow her on Twitter.