For me, the real appeal of Pixar’s first movie, Toy Story, was not the characters or the plot, but the groundbreaking technology of computer-generated 3D animation. As moviegoers fell in love with this more realistic form, their interest in traditional 2D animation waned. When Disney, the king of traditional animation, saw only modest box office success for Atlantis: The Lost Empire, it canceled a spin-off TV show and a proposed Disneyland attraction. They recognized that a seismic change had shaken the cinematic landscape, and Toy Story had caused it.
The characters of Toy Story proved immensely popular. Buzz Lightyear became a star. He got his own animated film and TV series. For those who admired him, loved him, or simply wanted to have adventures with him, Buzz Lightyear could be found in Happy Meals and toy stores in any number of sizes and configurations. I even had a small Buzz Lightyear action figure for several years. He stood on a shelf in my office, and when I pressed a button on his back, he spoke to me or made cool sound effects. I was sad when his sound chip stopped working.
Despite the movie’s groundbreaking new animation process, Toy Story wouldn’t have proven nearly so successful had it not introduced us to some great characters. The most popular, of course, was Buzz Lightyear. He may not be my hero, but I like him nonetheless. If others identify with him, and attempt to model their actions and their lives on him, well, I can see that.
Having said all that, I have to wonder. Do you think Pixar gets a royalty off of this guy?