While working for Walt Disney Feature Animation, John Lasseter became enamored with the possibilities that computer animation could offer when he was shown the lightcycle scene from Tron. He tried unsuccessfully to have Disney make The Brave Little Toaster into a completely computer-animated film before eventually being fired and moving on to Lucasfilm.
|The short that started it all.|
Lasseter went on to become a founding member of animation studio Pixar where he created short, computer-animated films to show off the Pixar Image Comptuer’s abilities. His 1988 short Tin Toy, which was told from the perspective of a toy and catered to Lasseter’s love of classic toys, became the first computer-generated film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. The short had gained Disney’s attention, and after a series of negotiations the two studios arranged to join together and turn Tin Toy into a feature film called Toy Story.
|Concept art for Buzz Lightyear.|
The story was drafted by Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter to have Tinny from Tin Toy pairing up with a ventriloquist’s dummy to go on a grand adventure. Studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg felt the story was problematic and had them reshape it to be more of a mismatched buddy picture. Tinny, deemed too antiquated, became a military action figure before being given a space theme and named Buzz Lightyear (after Buzz Aldrin). His space suit was modeled after those worn by Apollo astronauts and G.I. Joe action figures, and colored green and purple after Nancy Lasseter’s favorite colors. Character designer Bud Luckey suggested that Woody (named for the material he was originally composed of) should be changed into a cowboy; a contrast of themes Lasseter liked. Eventually, they scrapped the dummy angle altogether and turned Woody into a soft pull-string doll (keeping the name as an homage to Western actor Woody Strode). The final script would be written by Stanton with Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow and Joss Whedon and Lasseter would serve as director.
Toy Story centered on a world in which toys would come to life whenever people weren’t around. They had their own lives, personalities and autonomy, but they loved nothing more than to be played with. The world of a particular group of toys was changed when a new toy was introduced: the electronic talking Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen); a toy based off of an in-universe popular cartoon show. Woody (Tom Hanks), the original favorite toy of young Andy (John Morris), had become jealous of Buzz and all the attention he was getting from Andy and his fellow toys. Buzz was also completely oblivious that he was a toy and believed himself to be THE Buzz Lightyear. Their squabbling resulted in Woody and Buzz ending up in the clutches of their toy-destroying neighbor, Sid (Erik von Detten). Woody and Buzz had to work together and escape in order to return home before their family was set to move away.
|The ever-growing members of the Toy Story franchise.|
Toy Story opened on November 22, 1995, becoming the first feature-length film to be completely computer animated. The film was a massive success, earning $373.6 million at the box office, critical acclaim, and several awards and nominations. The film not only began Disney and Pixar’s long-standing partnership (which eventually culminated in Disney buying the studio outright), but generated interest in the technology used for the film and production of other computer-generated media.
Toy Story has since become a franchise with three theatrical sequels, two holiday television specials, three theatrical shorts, video games, comic books, actual toys and more. While work was being done on Toy Story 2, which expanded both Woody and Buzz’s family of characters with companion toys from their respective franchises, the idea was floated of turning the Buzz Lightyear show into an actual program. Tad Stones was approached by Disney to create the series on an $8 million budget, along with Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley. Initially, they had to juggle their duties on Buzz Lightyear with their work on Hercules: The Animated Series.
|Buzz and Warp Darkmatter rescuing the LGMs.|
Buzz Lightyear of Star Command centered on the space-faring exploits of Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear (Patrick Warburton) as he protected the cosmos from the sinister machinations of his arch-rival, the evil Emperor Zurg (Wayne Knight, who voiced the human villain of the second movie). While on a mission to rescue three Little Green Men (or LGMs, the toys encountered in a claw machine in the first movie, all voiced by Warburton), Buzz’s partner Warp Darkmatter (Diedrich Bader) was lost, causing Buzz to vow to never have a partner again.
|Team Lightyear: Buzz, Mira, XR and Booster.|
However, fate had other plans. Buzz’s superior, Commander Zeb Nebula (Adam Carolla) issued Buzz a new partner: Princess Mira Nova (Nicole Sullivan), heir to the Tangean throne with the ability to “ghost” through solid matter and read minds. The LGMs, who served as the loyal backbone of Star Command by developing and maintaining all of their equipment, provided Buzz with another partner in the form of the robot XR (Larry Miller & Neil Flynn). The eXperimental Ranger (although called eXpendable by most), was originally emotionless and designed to observe and learn from Buzz. And, in the event of his destruction (which happened on every mission), the LGMs could rebuild him promptly (the first time resulted in XR gaining an annoyingly animated personality). But yet a third partner presented himself in the form of Booster (Stephen Furst), a super strong and super dimwitted Star Command janitor who desired nothing more than to become a Ranger and achieved his dream when he helped defeat one of Zurg’s schemes. Together they became Team Lightyear.
Other members of Star Command included Ty Parsec (Steve Hytner), an old friend of Buzz who got tired of always being rescued by him and ended up being transformed into a Wirewolf (a robotic werewolf); Rocket Crocket (Phil LaMarr), leader of Team Rocket and Buzz’s chief rival; Petra Hammerhold (Nikki Cox), forced to join Star Command by her father, Senator Hammerhold (Corey Burton), to keep her away from her boyfriend, Plasma Boy (Michael Showalter), who also later became a member of Star Command; and 42 (Joy Behar), an A.I. that once possessed Buzz’s ship and was later given a robot body to help the LGMs.
Zurg wasn’t without his own allies. The bug-like Grubs (all Frank Welker) served the same functions as the LGMs, albeit less competently. The Brain Pods (various) were brains in jars on robotic bodies that served as Zurg’s scientists and researchers while constantly plotting their escape from Zurg’s clutches. The Hornets were Zurg’s robotic foot soldiers. They were largely ineffective and extremely expendable, constantly being destroyed en masse by the Space Rangers. It would come to be revealed that Warp had secretly been working for Zurg all along and became Agent Z after faking his death. He gained a robotic arm that could house various attachments.
|Gravitina has Buzz on the brain (and a lot of other stuff!).|
Other foes included Gravitina (Kerri Kenney), a large-headed woman that could control gravity and was in love with Buzz; NOS-4-A2 (Craig Ferguson), a robotic vampire created by Zurg that could drain anything powered by electricity as well as control any machine he bit; Torque (Brad Garrett), a career criminal that could create unstable duplicates of himself; and XL (Bobcat Goldthwait), XR’s predecessor who was initially shut down because of his villainous tendencies.
Buzz Lightyear of Star Command was finished long before Toy Story 2, so it was decided to hold on to it until after the film was released. This gave the production crew a chance to work on a direct-to-video movie to introduce the concept and new characters that would also double as the series’ first three episodes. Pixar created a new short intro starring the Toy Story 2 characters settling in to watch the movie, which was otherwise traditionally animated and had the highest quality of the entire series. Allen reprised his role as Buzz in the intro and re-recorded over Warburton’s recording (which was restored when the movie was broken up into individual episodes, and the Pixar portion omitted). Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins was released on VHS and DVD on August 8, 2000, becoming the first spin-off of a Pixar film. The series itself hit television screens on October 2, 2000. It aired both as a feature of UPN’s Disney’s One Too weekday programming block and as part of ABC’s Disney’s One Saturday Morning programming block, effectively airing seven days a week as a result for its entire 65-episode run. Each episode ended with Buzz saying his famous line, “To infinity…and beyond!”
|Electric vampire NOS-4-A2.|
While Pixar did provide some animation for the series’ opening titles featuring cameos of the Toy Story characters set to a narration by Gary Owens, the rest of the intro and the series itself were traditionally animated by Walt Disney Animation Japan, Sun Min Co. Ltd. Animation Production, Toon City, Jade Animation Intl, Sunwoo Animation Co. Ltd., Tama Production Co., Ltd., Wang Film Productions Co., Ltd. and Hana Animation Co. The writing staff included Adam Armus, John Behnke, Cade Chilcoat, Nick DuBois, Nora Kay Foster, Eddie Guzelian, Rob Humphrey, Greg Johnson, Ken Koonce, Michael A. Medlock, Michael Merton, Bill Motz, Mark Palmer, Jim Peterson, Bob Roth, Gary Sperling, Elizabeth Stonecipher, and Stones, amongst others. Adam Berry provided the music. In 2001, the series won a Daytime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Sound Editing – Special Class”.
Buzz Lightyear continued to air on UPN until 2003 when Disney’s partnership with the network came to an end. During that time, it also aired on the Disney Channel and again from 2006 to 2008 before leaving United States airwaves. It was also seen on Toon Disney from 2003-2007. The episodes “Inside Job” and “Conspiracy” were taken out of rotation following the 9/11 terrorist attacks due to their dealing with assassination elements, and “Super Nova” for its allusion to drug abuse. Lasseter ended up not being a fan of the series, resulting in Pixar barring any elements of it from being used in any other Toy Story media and even disallowing the mention of the cartoon in the movies. To date, only The Adventure Begins has been released on home media as well as the episode “Planet of the Lost”.
Mattel, who released toys for the Toy Story franchise, released two waves of figures based on the show. The first wave, called Toy Story and Beyond, featured Buzz, Booster, XR, Zurg and Warp. The Space Rangers all came with a LGM while the villains came with a Grub. The second wave, called Cosmic Clash, featured new Buzz, Booster and XR figures without LGMs, and NOS-4-A2 as their primary foe. The following year, McDonald’s included six toys based on the show in their Happy Meals. Team Lightyear, Nebula and Zurg could all be launched from a spaceship part that could be assembled to create a larger spaceship. Random House published a series of story and glow-in-the-dark sticker books that adapted various episodes, as well as a pop-up book, punch-out doll book, and coloring books. Five comic strips based on the show were published in the pages of Disney Adventures Magazine between 2000 and 2001. Traveler’s Tales developed a game with Disney Interactive that was published by Activision. It was a rail shooting game that saw Buzz having to traverse various planets for three missions: a race against a criminal, a time trial, and recovering all of XR’s body parts. It featured the show’s voice cast and cut scenes comprised of clips from various episodes.