Disney Executive Admits Why Lightyear Was A Mistake

Disney's Lightyear removed Buzz Lightyear from the world of Toy Story, and according to an executive, audiences didn't want a serious sci-fi film. They wanted the toy that they had come to love for over 25 years.

By Sean Thiessen | Updated


Lightyear seemed like a film ready for blast off. It was based on a popular character from an existing franchise and starred A-listers Chris Evans and Keke Palmer, yet it became one of Pixar’s weakest box-office performers. In an interview with The Wrap, Pixar Chief Creative Officer Pete Docter explained where he thought things went wrong with Disney and Pixar’s Buzz Lightyear origin tale.

Docter said he and his Pixar cohorts thought long and hard about what sent Lightyear off course. “I think probably … what went wrong is that we asked too much of the audience,” Docter said. “When they hear Buzz, they’re like, great, where’s Mr. Potato Head and Woody and Rex? And then we drop them into this science fiction film that they’re like, What?”

Disney and Pixar took a leap of faith with Lightyear, choosing to tell not the story of Buzz Lightyear, the toy, but Buzz Lightyear the man. The film was a full-send science fiction tale with merits of its own, but it severed Buzz from his Toy Story companions. While Docter believes the leap asked of the audience was perhaps too great, he is still proud of the film and the team behind it.

Pete Docter praised Lightyear director Angus MacLane for taking Buzz Lightyear seriously. The Disney film looked to flesh Buzz out as a more complex, real character, but according to Docter, that isn’t the Buzz Lightyear audiences are accustomed to. He explains that “[T]he characters in Toy Story are much broader, and so I think there was a disconnect between what people wanted/expected and what we were giving to them.”

Still, Docter said he stands by the film’s characters and premise. Moving forward, Lightyear serves as a lesson for the Pixar executive and the studio team. Disney and Pixar’s return to Buzz Lightyear was lackluster. Still, the studio partnership is looking ahead to once again revive Buzz Lightyear with Toy Story 5, one of the announced sequels the studios have on the docket.

Chris Evans and Keke Palmer in Lightyear

Early reactions to the announcement of a fifth Toy Story film were largely negative, but Pete Docter is excited about the sequel.  He said a sequel is not worth doing unless there is a deserving story to be told, but declined to divulge details about Toy Story 5, saying only: “It’s got some really cool stuff that you haven’t seen before.” Disney and Pixar have not yet confirmed whether or not Tom Hanks and Tim Allen will return as Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

Another sequel in the works from Pixar is Inside Out 2. The original Inside Out was released in 2015 and was directed by Docter. The film follows Riley, a young girl dealing with a mix of emotions, with all of them cleverly personified in the control center of Riley’s mind. Pixar veteran Kelsey Mann, best known for writing The Good Dinosaur, will helm the psychological shenanigans this time.

Pete Docter said that one of the great pleasures of being an executive at Pixar has been finding new talent. The studio has enjoyed less tumult and more diversity behind the scenes since Docter took the position, which has led to greater diversity in the types of stories Pixar has been able to tell. For Docter, there is great universality in detailed specificity.

Disney and Pixar may have stumbled with Lightyear, but the mistake of mismanaging expectations is one the team is unlikely to make again. The studio has a lot on the way and will continue the mission it set out on with its very first film: to go to infinity… and beyond.