Lightyear Director Doesn’t Believe Spin-Offs Are Pixar’s Future

These days, it feels like everything is a spin-off of a spin-off. It doesn’t matter what franchise you’re dealing with, or what platform its based on, every character in every story seems primed to headline their very own movie or TV show–and, really, it isn’t hard to see why, when entertainment dynasties like Marvel Studios and Star Wars are dominating streaming viewership and box offices around the globe, though not every major spin-off has to involve superheroes or Jedi.

This weekend, Pixar’s latest offering (and their first trip back to theaters since 2020), Lightyear, spins out of their beloved classic Toy Story, taking a look at the movie that Andy would have seen back in 1995 to inspire him to buy the Buzz Lightyear toy. And this is far from Pixar’s first dalliance with indirect sequels and spin-offs. Movies like Finding Dory and Planes (though not technically under the Pixar banner) have each taken a swing at growing their respective narrative universes by featuring new corners of the world or pivoting side characters into the hero spot. It wouldn’t be too far a reach to see the possibility for a pattern beginning to emerge with Pixar’s future being tied to the breakout hits of its past–but, according to Lightyear director and co-writer Angus MacLane, it probably isn’t a great idea.

Despite his experience working on both Lightyear and Finding Dory, MacLane doesn’t believe that spin-offs are the studio’s future, and they’re not projects he would recommend to up-and-coming directors. “I really wouldn’t recommend it,” MacLane said speaking to GameSpot, “It’s so, so hard.”

Lightyear’s producer, Galyn Susman chimed in to emphasize that it’s only a good idea under the right conditions. “I would only do it if you have a deep passion for that character because it really is very challenging.”

MacLane continued, “as a filmmaker you really have to think about what problems you want to solve. When we took on this project 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. 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.”

And the challenges aren’t always narrative in nature, sometimes they boil down to audience expectations. MacLane explained, “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, and you really don’t think about that once you see the movie but until then, there’s so much [room for comparison.]” Which is, according to MacLane, something you have to anticipate when doing a movie like this. “And I get that, really. 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, that’s a little more tongue-in-cheek, but I think that works much better for a shorter format. For a feature, you’re living in the emotion of those characters. “

Of course, it’s impossible to say spin-offs of Pixar properties will never happen again–while there aren’t any currently announced coming down the pipeline, with 26 feature films under their banner, Pixar certainly has a back catalog fit for mining. It will all have to come down to, in MacLane’s view, picking the right projects for the right reasons.

Lightyear is in theaters now.

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