In case you missed the first installment, this is a little series I’m writing as a lark to identify ten of animation’s most fascinating characters. These characters are supremely interesting in-and-of-themselves, regardless of their varying fascinating plots/settings, etc. Check out number 10, Norman from ParaNorman, if you haven’t already. Today’s spot belongs to a character that is so out-of-this world that you have to go to infinity and beyond to find someone as fascinating as him.
By saying that Buzz Lightyear is in the top ten most fascinating characters does not mean that there is something lacking in Woody or the other characters in those amazing films. It’s just that there is something about that space ranger—after all, he was designed to be an irresistible child’s toy. His action figure can just be sitting still on my desk and I am drawn to stare at him. I want to press his red buttons and hear his recorded messages. Then, his straightforward, heroic and adorably naïve personality exponentially increases his charm.
NUMBER 9: Buzz Lightyear (Toy Story Saga, Pixar, 1995 – Current)
A shrewd reader may ask how I can separate Buzz from the Toy Story plot and say he is interesting all on his own. After all, before he saw that “Not a flying toy” commercial, he was—literally—a robot. He said and did what he was programmed to do, just like all the other Buzz Lightyears in the world (as seen in the Buzz aisle of Al’s Toy Barn in Toy Story 2). What’s so fascinating about that? Well, these top ten characters can’t be wholly extricated from their films because that’s how we understand their characters’ personalities and other fascinating qualities.
Buzz may start out seemingly bland, but from the first moment when the camera pans up over his plastic feet to reveal his eager expression and funny blinking, you are 100% fascinated. When he says, “Buzz Lightyear to Star Command, come in Star Command. Star Command, do you read me? Why don’t they answer?” I still bust up. He is so sure of himself, so good at being Buzz Lightyear. He is so confident in himself that he performs a miraculous “flying” stunt (falling with style) and immediately garners the affection of all the toys in the room…except Woody.
Then, the way he reacts to finding out the truth about his abilities is amazing: first, he jumps and breaks himself, which may be what other Buzzes would do, but not to an awesome Randy Newman song like Buzz. Buzz is also so passionate and sincere that he literally loses his mind and turns into Mrs. Nesbit. This is where his fascinating inner Buzz really shines. His gloomy downward spiral is incredibly powerful—so much so that even Woody eventually feels for him. Buzz shows he has a dark sense of humor, too, like when Woody asks Buzz to give him a hand and he throws his broken arm at Woody.
As a character, Buzz Lightyear maintains his fascinating air beyond the first installment. Truthfully, Woody is the star of all the films—especially the second—but Buzz accidentally speaking in Spanish to Jessie is one of the highlights of the whole franchise. He remains interesting beyond his initial plot development because he was designed and written well, not to mention acted brilliantly by Tim Allen. I mean, no matter what quote people come up with for being the best of Toy Story, nothing will top, “You are a sad, strange little man and you have my pity. Farewell!”
When he meets the other Buzzes in Toy Story 2 and says, “Tell me I wasn’t that delusional,” you get a sense of personal growth and self-contemplation that is seriously deep for a cartoon character. In Bolt, another fantastic film, there is a similar premise with Bolt not realizing the superpowers he thinks he has are just pretend for a television show. I think what Buzz brings that Bolt did not was some reflection and growth after he learns the truth. Again, I don’t mean to take away from Bolt at all—that is one of my favorite films. However, Buzz is a more dynamic character and there is more to admire and reflect upon in the way he grows.
Be sure to let me know if you agree, disagree or otherwise with me about these top ten choices. Coming soon will be number 8—you won’t want to miss it!