EXCLUSIVE: ‘Lightyear’ Director Reveals Reason Behind Zurg’s New Look

When Lightyear hits theaters on June 17th, it will introduce the world to brand new versions of a couple of iconic characters. Buzz Lightyear and his arch-nemesis, Zurg, will both appear with fresh voices, but only the latter will show up with a new design. In an exclusive interview with Murphy’s Multiverse, the film’s director Angus MacLane explained the reason behind the change and why the toy within Toy Story‘s universe looks so much goofier than the film’s more threatening depiction.

In the past, MacLane has compared the old Buzz Lightyear of Star Command show to Lucasfilm’s Ewoks series from the 1980s. While the movies are slightly more adult, the animated spin-offs are more cartoonish and largely ignore the canon established on the big screen. Over the course of Toy Story 2, audiences were introduced to a toy version of Zurg with a skirt, cape, and humorous personality. MacLane believes this action figure, owned by Andy, was one based on the non-canon Zurg from the Star Command series and not Lightyear:

Well, I imagine the version from Toy Story 2 is from the cartoon that the Toy Story Buzz is from. In the same way that the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command cartoon show, that Zurg looks more like the Zurg that we know from Toy Story 2.

Angus MacLane

If anybody were to be an expert on Zurg, it would be MacLane, who has been part of the character’s creative team since the very beginning. The director used a few anime references to explain that Zurg’s Toy Story design was intended to be over-the-top for comedic effect, while the Lightyear creation was meant to be a bit more menacing:

Interestingly, I started as an intern [at Pixar] in January of ’97, and the first thing I got to do was actually help design Zurg the robot. That one is a little more influenced by the kind of jumbo machinder Japanese toy. It has a little more of that kind of design language… Whereas our Zurg has a little bit more influence from, I would say, more of a real robot influence from Japanese anime. It’s a little bit more Patlabor or Gundam…

Angus MacLane

Additionally, MacLane revealed that the old look for Zurg simply wouldn’t allow for what needed to be done with the character in Lightyear‘s story. Fortunately, the design team was still able to incorporate a few of the iconic elements from his first appearance:

There are things that we needed to do narratively. Like, he can’t have a skirt. That was done for goofiness in movement for [Toy Story 2]. We needed him to have legs, but if he puts his legs together they kind of form the skirt. The cape we dealt with in a different way. So we wanted to kind of take that idea and bring it into our world, but still make it awesome. I go, “what would be the coolest way to make Zurg?”. So we changed the design, but kept it in the language of this film.

Angus MacLane

While the new Zurg may not look as familiar as some might have hoped, he certainly fits the role of science-fiction villain to a tee. Hear James Brolin take over the fearsome role and decide for yourself on June 17th.

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