Lightyear's Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi, And Dale Soules Talk Being Part Of The Story Behind The Toy - Exclusive Interview

Leave it to Pixar, the revered studio behind films like "Finding Nemo," "Up," and "Monsters, Inc.," to find a way to rejuvenate a franchise that's been around for almost 30 years. During that time, Buzz Lightyear has been a part of the "Toy Story" universe, where we know him as a toy with a noble bearing, cool features, and a deep loyalty to the other playthings in Andy's room. What we didn't know was that the toy was based on the main character from Andy's favorite movie, "Lightyear," a Space Ranger who makes a mistake that he desperately works to fix, a mission that sees him repeatedly fly into space and across time. With his great heroism and determination, plus some pretty awesome gadgets, it's no wonder this Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) won over Andy — and now we can see that story for ourselves.

However, if there's one thing the film makes clear, it's that Buzz can't do it all alone, and it turns out he has some unexpected allies in "Lightyear:" a trio of eager but inexperienced new recruits that make up a crew called the Junior Zap Patrol. Led by Keke Palmer's Izzy Hawthorne, the group also includes Taika Waititi's less than committed Mo Morrison and Dale Soules' gruff, tough Darby Steel. They may not be exactly what Buzz hoped for in a team, but as his mission grows increasingly complicated, he finds himself relying on them in ways he could never imagine. 

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Palmer, Waititi, and Soules discussed the thrill of being a part of "Lightyear" and the trust they had in the filmmakers, even though they weren't given a complete script and, due to the pandemic, were forced to record their parts in isolation from one another.

Learning 'the story that inspired the toy'

What was your reaction when you learned that Pixar was making this origin story for a toy, and that you would be playing entirely new characters as a part of it?

Taika Waititi: I thought it was a brilliant idea. I thought it was a great idea, even though they've had "Toy Story," "2," "3," and "4" and all the other films, it was lovely to know the story behind this one, that this was the story that inspired the toy that kicked off that first film. In some ways it's a prequel, but I thought that was brilliant.

Dale Soules: I agree.

Keke Palmer: Same.

Soules: [It's] really interesting. I love the idea that he was a super toy. He was a Superman, he was the aeronautic version of Superman. [There were some] differences — he needed mechanical wings and an atmospheric space suit — [but Buzz] does something in the film that Superman often did, which was to get under something in the air and support it, a vehicle of some kind. That reminded me of [Superman].

Trusting in Pixar

You recorded your parts separately because of the pandemic, but the film has so much fun banter between the three of you and Chris Evans' Buzz and Peter Sohn's Sox. When you finally got to see everything together, were you surprised to hear how well your characters fit together?

Palmer: I wasn't shocked because [with] Pixar, Disney, I'm like, "Yo, this is going to be great." The process of knowing what the script [was] about was so secretive, but we were that trusting that we were like, "We believe you because we know what you're going to put together." I trusted the process, and when I saw the finished product, I [was] like, "Man, it was so well [done]." I admired from a point of view, outside of being an actor, but also loving film and loving the creation of great storytelling. It was awesome.

Waititi: I had full trust. I've seen all of their films and you know you're in good hands with these guys.

This interview was edited for clarity.

"Lightyear" is currently playing in theaters.