Why ‘Lightyear’ LGBTQ character, kiss became essential

Every hero has an origin story – especially those that launch a line of toys. But even these heroes need someone to believe in them first.

Lightyear, Pixar’s latest time-warped sequel to the Toy Story franchise, now in theaters nationwide, tells the origin story of Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) in the context of a sci-fi adventure film. The Space Ranger protagonist, in turn, inspired a number of toys, including the one introduced to Pixar audiences in 1995.

Directed by Angus MacLane, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jason Headley, “Lightyear” declares that it is so in its opening scrawl is the movie Andy saw from Toy Story that got him hooked on a Buzz Lightyear toy. But beyond that meta-framing, the film’s straight-forward story follows Buzz, who is so fixated on undoing a mistake that derailed his mission and the lives of his shipmates that he refuses to slow down enough to noticing that he misses all other aspects of life.

It’s the stuff of classic Pixar storylines, but months before its premiere, “Lightyear” caused a stir that had nothing to do with its central hero.

In March, Walt Disney Co. came under fire for its initial silence on a Florida law restricting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom — dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics. During the commotion, Pixar employees urged Disney executives to excise “almost every moment of overtly gay affection” from the animation studio’s films. Soon after, it was reported that a previously cut kiss shared by queer “Lightyear” character Alisha Hawthorne and her wife was reincorporated into the film.

a man and a woman are talking to each other

Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) and Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) in Lightyear.

(Pixar)

More recently, the queer portrayal of “Lightyear” has garnered more attention, leading to the film being banned or canceled from screenings in countries like the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia that disapproved of its inclusion. Not to mention the increasingly vocal conservative voices trying to foment irrational outrage at any recognition of the true reality of LGBTQ people.

Despite marking a milestone in LGBTQ inclusion in a Pixar film, there’s more to Alisha Hawthorne – Buzz’s commander and fellow Space Ranger – than that kiss. She’s one of the reasons Buzz can become the hero he could be.

Uzo Aduba, who voices Alisha in “Lightyear,” describes her as “someone with a really warm heart and a soft spot for buzz.”

“They’re not just colleagues, they’re friends,” Aduba said. “They trust each other immensely. They rely on each other in their work and their tasks. She’s someone who helps get Buzz to see all sides of life.”

Like Buzz, Alisha loves her job and is an incredibly capable commander. She is one of the few people Buzz trusts by nature, as Alisha gave him a chance when he was an unproven beginner – an example Buzz finds difficult to follow. Alisha even has ties to one of Buzz’s most famous catchphrases.

“Once we figured out Alisha, that sparked the emotion for the whole movie,” said MacLane, explaining that it made her the commander and Buzz’s older sister character that made so many elements of the movie click. Though her total screen time is limited, her presence is felt throughout the film.

A man reaches out to touch another person's index fingers

Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans) owes a lot to his mentor and friend Alisha.

(Pixar)

Despite her importance, MacLane revealed that “Alisha wasn’t there as a character in the original pitch” of the film. Instead, the story’s earliest visions placed Buzz with another space ranger and pilot, with whom he also had a romantic relationship. But that approach was scrapped when MacLane realized he didn’t think Buzz worked in romantic situations.

Based on that observation and the integrity of Izzy Hawthorne’s story, MacLane wanted to make sure it was made absolutely clear that there was never any romance between Buzz and Alisha. Izzy is Alisha’s granddaughter who eventually meets Buzz because his experiments have thrown him out of the rhythm of normal time.

Izzy, who dreams of following in her grandmother’s footsteps, is not meant to be considered a love interest at all, much less one that could be viewed as Buzz’s “second chance” at an unrequited romance.

“When the proposal to make Alisha a queer character was great, it was great for two reasons,” MacLane said. “One, Substitute. And two, [Alisha] can live their separate lives and you never feel like there’s jealousy … it’s more about how she’s lived her life,” and Buzz didn’t have that.

Alisha’s life in the colony founded by the stranded crew includes falling in love, getting married and raising a family – all while continuing to work as the commander and watching over Buzz as he fixates on finding a way back to Earth. Part of what Buzz has to learn over the course of the film is that Alisha didn’t “settle” for a lesser path.

The kiss Alisha shares with her wife Kiko is a way for the film to show that they are in a “loving, enduring relationship.” (Disney’s earlier pushback was about the kiss and not Alisha’s relationship.)

a woman and a man in space suits with a robotic cat

Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer) and Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) with robot cat Sox (Peter Sohn) in Lightyear.

(Pixar)

“I don’t know of any loving, lasting couples that don’t have some level of intimacy,” said producer Galyn Susman. “[Alisha’s] coming home for their 40th anniversary. The most natural and organic way would be to kiss your spouse when you get home. … We just wanted something that felt authentic.”

According to Susman and MacLane, “every other workaround felt a little less than authentic,” including “a really awkward hand-holding moment… [that] just looked weird.”

For MacLane, the behind-the-scenes performance was just as meaningful as the on-screen performance, seeing “Lightyear’s” queer staff, including animators and editors, “guide the character to get it right.”

“We had a lot of queer personnel in the film,” MacLane said. “There are a lot of really fantastic representations that mean a lot – more than I can understand. It means a lot to me that they are so excited about it and take it so personally.”

Aduba said she is proud to be part of an inclusive story told in a film involving a well-loved character from a well-known franchise.

“The exciting thing is that any kid, young or old, can watch a movie like ‘Lightyear’ and find a piece of themselves in it,” Aduba said. “This is really important for our LGBTQ children and all voices. That is bring stories to infinity.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-06-20/lightyear-alisha-hawthorne-pixar-lgbtq-representation-kiss Why ‘Lightyear’ LGBTQ character, kiss became essential

Sarah Ridley

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