This announcement has been considered by some to be a surprise for Pixar and I myself was also initially taken aback. Just under half of Pixar's releases in the last ten years have been sequels (or prequels) of previous films, whereas for the 15 years prior, only Toy Story 2 was one (and even then it started off as a direct-to-video release, that was only restructured as a feature film later). Many tie Pixar's sequel phase with Disney's acquisition of the studio. After Toy Story 4 (2019) was released, Pixar producer Mark Nielson revealed the studio would instead focus on original films.
However, despite the ongoing in-joke in cinema about the 'sequels are never as good' (followed by a list of notable exceptions), and the continued criticism against Disney of recycling, remaking or pushing out content set in existing properties - it's easy to forget that even with its sequels, Pixar is still pretty consistent with the quality of its output.
I feel very strongly - intimately - about the Toy Story franchise. I was born in 1995, the year Toy Story came out, and I grew up with the films
Now admittedly, the less impactful films always tend to be the sequels and prequels (Finding Dory, Monsters University), but as standalone films they are still pretty good. Cars 2 (2011) - yes okay Cars 2 is the let down but it's also the film Pixar didn't want to make, but the merchandise power of the Cars franchise was too good (and 2017's Cars 3, which I recently watched for the first time, redeemed the franchise). And among all this - the Toy Story franchise, despite stretching to four films over a span of almost 24 years, have all been highly critically praised.
I feel very strongly - intimately - about the Toy Story franchise. I was born in 1995, the year Toy Story came out, and I grew up with the films. They felt like a sibling to me. Toy Story 3 came out near enough the time I was starting to think about where my own life was going. And so I am 100% unashamed that when, at that time under the belief it was the final theatrical appearance, the final scene played out, as Andy had to let go of his childhood toys, I wept floods of tears. I even gave the film a standing ovation. The film explored the concept of moving from childhood into adulthood as I myself was about to, so it felt like Pixar was speaking to me personally.
With such a strong and personal ending, I was adamant that Pixar should not make a Toy Story 4, lest they ruin the beauty of a perfectly wrapped up trilogy. I was fine seeing the characters again in shorts, but to me the thematic resonance of Toy Story 3 mattered because it was a goodbye. Another film would make that goodbye empty. So when I heard that Pixar was making Toy Story 4, I was very worried.
Long story short I started every review I made of Toy Story 4 with an apology to Pixar for ever doubting them. Toy Story 4 didn't undermine the third film. It told the last part in the story I never realised I also needed. It came out during the final year of my undergrad - Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 both in a sense bookmarked the lead up to the start of my uni life and the end of my undergrad. My undergrad was marred by sever mental illness - and self doubt and I was frankly lost about my future. Toy Story 4 tackled those themes and served to reassure me that it was fine to feel lost and to make a brand new identity. So yes. I cried so much during that film too.
And since then I have promised to never doubt Pixar again.
Despite all this - Lightyear isn't actually a sequel. It's arguably Pixar's first feature spin-off (depending on, really, if you consider Finding Dory a sequel or spin-off to Finding Nemo - we can settle on a sequel spin-off). If my understanding of the film is correct, it doesn't tie into the narrative of the Toy Story films at all, only elements.
As he is not the character Buzz Lightyear, Tim Allen does not voice the character but instead Marvel's Chris Evans
As mentioned, it explores the story of the (bear with me here) out-of-universe fictional but in-universe real life human who would later be the inspiration for the both out-of-and-in-universe fictional character - but both called Buzz Lightyear. Pixar have released very little other than what I have just said but the implication is this character does something historic, and as such is commemorated in history with at least a character based on him.
As he is not the character Buzz Lightyear, Tim Allen does not voice the character but instead Marvel's Chris Evans. This received a degree of backlash from fans who did not immediately realise these were two different characters and objected to the perceived recast, requiring Disney to clarify. The only other news we have is the film will be directed by Angus MacLane. MacLane has been part of Pixar since 1997, primarily as an animator. He shadowed under Andrew Stanton as a co-director for Finding Dory, but this film will serve as his directorial debut.
So in regards to the premise of Lightyear, I do admit it does puzzle me slightly. I'll explain by comparing to the real world example of Neil Armstrong (I could humorously use Buzz Aldrin instead but then I feel it's just adding yet another Buzz to the mix!). What the film wants us to believe would be the equivalent of if Neil Armstrong, after his historic achievement, was then commemorated (possibly with or not with other forms of commemorations) by having his appearance and name slapped on to a completely fictional action hero character with a fictional story that has nothing to do with his actual career and moon landing.
Much like in real life how Saturday morning cartoons (a la Transformers) are essentially a half hour advertisement for the toys, there is the cartoon series of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command
Certainly Armstrong has had fictional portrayals of him as well as biographical, but nearly all of these are based on the real life events. What hasn't happened is the existence of a Neil Armstrong brand based on a fictional science fiction character who has no resemblance to the real Armstrong other than name and appearance.
I say all this because it is already established in the Toy Story universe that Buzz Lightyear as a toy has a fictional character story. Much like in real life how Saturday morning cartoons (a la Transformers) are essentially a half hour advertisement for the toys, there is the cartoon series of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command - which, in a nice meta way, is both a real life cartoon series by Walt Disney Television Animation and an in-universe cartoon series that exists in the franchise.
So the understanding we had prior is that we were to assume Lightyear was developed by a toy company and/or animation studio as a fictional character to capitalise on the interest in sci-fi, and they released the toy line and the cartoon series and it got popular.
So therefore the existence of Lightyear adds an odd spin to this which I hopefully convey in my comparison to Armstrong - presumably the human Buzz Lightyear was not a Space Ranger of Star Command, which presumably isn't a real thing in the universe Toy Story is set in, which seems otherwise to be contemporary (so 1995) Earth, not a futuristic civilisation of interplanetary travel.
With that being the case - I guess the conclusion to this is it seems odd then you would celebrate an astronaut's achievement not by telling their real story but by erasing it with a fictional character which is you only in name.
Of course all of this is the rambling speculation of someone too deep in Toy Story lore when the only information confirmed for facts are relatively minimal, and there are still two other Pixar films before we reach Lightyear in over 12 months time. Pixar usually reveals very little about the details of their releases in marketing, saving it all for the actual film, so it might be until then this Pixar fanatic will have to continue to wonder and ponder and dig.
Lightyear is scheduled to release on the 17th June 2022 - although as to where depends on if we managed to revive our cinema industry by then.