Pixar’s newest animated adventure, Lightyear, requires a bit of context at the beginning to understand its placement within the larger cinematic universe to which it’s connected, hence these opening titles: “In 1995 Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”
The Andy in question is the little boy voiced by John Morris in 1995’s Toy Story, the first feature-length Pixar film which kicked off a whole new movement of animated film. Set largely within the confines of one kid’s bedroom, where the toys come to life when no humans are around, Toy Story is about, duh, toys. But while some pre-existing toy brands are a part of the Toy Story universe, including Barbie, Mr. Potatohead, Slinky Dog, and more, the heroes of the film are toys from fictional media properties.
Specifically, Sheriff Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is the star of a long-running black-and-white 1940s puppet show called Woody’s Roundup, while Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen in his toy incarnation) is the central character of… well, a 1995 sci-fi movie called Lightyear, about an adventurous Space Ranger trying to help his stranded crew return home, which for some reason has broken through the space-time continuum to premiere in theaters in the year 2022.
That’s not the weirdest part of Lightyear‘s existence, though. See, during a recent press conference for the film, director Angus MacLane, producer Galyn Susman, and composer Michael Giacchino were asked if, within the universe of Toy Story, the film Lightyear was an animated movie or if Andy and his fellow Buzz fans were watching what would be considered, by them, a live-action film. The filmmakers confirmed that to Andy’s eyes, it’s a live-action film, before noting that things technically get even more meta than that.
“We got asked yesterday, ‘Who were the filmmakers who made the film?’ And then we realized we’re the filmmakers,” MacLane said. “Because the credits have our names on it, I think there’s an in-universe version of each of us that are now Disney characters… That is a weird thing to figure out and think about. Like, who they’re gonna get to voice us?”
Added Giacchino, “I was going to say, are they going to make action figures of us?”
While the world awaits a Michael Giacchino action figure (there’s definitely a market for it), it’s worth considering the broader implications of this conversation. The filmmakers have acknowledged that because Lightyear technically exists as a film-within-a-film franchise, similar to the clips of Woody’s Roundup that are seen in Toy Story 2, that means that they themselves (or their animated analogs) exist within the Toy Story universe.
But, doesn’t it also mean that the rest of us do too? For, just like the character of Andy, we all live in a universe where a movie called Lightyear, about a brave space ranger named Buzz Lightyear, is coming out in theaters. We can even purchase Buzz Lightyear toys right now that sound like Tim Allen when he talks. (Yes, he sounds a little different from the guy in the movie, but if you were a kid in the year 1995, then you know that toys never exactly sound like they do in the movies.)
Sure, there’s the fact that this is the year 1995, not 2022, but… what if it was? Or what if we are currently in an alternate universe, tragically free of hot dog fingers, where certain cultural developments arrived simply out of order, leading to us to a situation where we got the toys first, then the movie came out? Actually, that’s how it worked with classic 1980s cartoon shows like He-Man and G.I. Joe — the toys gave birth to the show, not the other way around…
In short, we all live in a very glitchy Matrix and Lightyear just happened to be the way we found out. MacLane seemed to know what he was doing when he addressed this matter, adding even more complications to the mix: “Why do the characters [in Lightyear] look so much more realistic than Andy? That’s because Andy is 30 years older than them. And as you grow older, you become more realistic in the Andy universe.”
What does that mean? What is happening? Are we even alive right now? MacLane had no answers for the press, but did present some options: “Your choices are thus — you could go down the rabbit hole like we’ve just done. Or you could see a fantastic new film, Lightyear, starting June 17th.”