When Pixar set out to create competing, fictional, toys in its debut film Toy Story it settled on cowboys and space rangers. The thought being that once upon a time cowboys were the most popular fantasy toy among boys, but were soon replaced by fantastic space voyagers once real-life space travel became possible. In order to really set the mood for the film, Pixar created Buzz Lightyear. He had a fictional back story that felt like it came right off of the back of an action figure blister card in 1990. He had a fictional TV show in the film, though we saw little of it. He had a nemesis, and the lore of the Buzz character was added to for the sequel, Toy Story 2.
Both films were a huge success for Pixar and Disney. And since the films were popular with kids, it meant licensing was super easy. After all, every character in the film was a toy! Toys were created and sold and even more money was earned. Pixar didn’t stop there though. Kids liked Buzz and they had interest in the fictional lore of the character that the films only touched upon, so why not turn that into a real world cartoon series? That’s how the world ended up with Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. This is the story of the fictional Buzz created and sold to kids like Andy of Toy Story. He’s supposed to be a cartoon in that universe, so in our real world he too is a cartoon (and because animating the show like a Pixar film would probably be way too expensive). The only thing the show couldn’t do was preserve his voice, since star Tim Allen was either too expensive (probably) and also probably didn’t want to be tied down to an animated series.
Enter Patrick Warburton, who has a better voice for the character than Allen himself. He’s a natural fit for the regal, yet brash, space ranger that is Buzz Lightyear. The show was, like many Disney Afternoon shows that came before it, a direct-to-syndication order. And like DuckTales and Gargoyles, it premiered in an extended format as a mini film of sorts which spanned multiple episodes when aired on television and could be sold at retail and marketed as a movie. The show was part of the One Saturday Morning block and also aired on week day afternoons (though not as part of the famed Disney Afternoon) from 2000-2001 and likely in reruns there after across various Disney platforms. For a long time, it was the only Pixar television series, though Disney+ is expanding that. It also has the distinction of being one of the few hand-drawn, 2D, animated offerings from Pixar.
As a syndicated program, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command totaled 65 episodes with the 62nd being a Christmas one. We’re going to find out how the denizens of space celebrate the holiday. And if you thought the Santa who lived on earth had it bad, the one we’re about to meet has to deliver toys to an entire galaxy! And since this is a cartoon series with Buzz in the starring role, we’re going to have to meet some unfamiliar supporting characters along the way. The big, baddie is obviously Zurg, but he figures to have some minions or something, I would assume. I’m going into this show pretty cold as it’s a blind spot for me, but it at least has a solid pedigree to start.
Each episode begins with a cute little piece of animation where the characters of Toy Story are rushing to get to a television set to watch the show. The episode begins on what I assume is the home planet of Buzz, or at least the home planet where the Space Rangers are headquartered. There’s a Santa ringing a bell in the center of town and this Santa is not the real deal, but is actually Buzz. He strikes a nice pose, though he’s lacking in the whole bowl full of jelly department. Fellow space ranger Mira (Nicole Sullivan) is educating her colleague XR (Neil Flynn) about the holiday season. Mira is pretty basic looking as she’s just a blue human, though XR is some sort of robot. He looks kind of like Earthworm Jim to me. He thinks all of this holiday stuff is pretty dumb as he buys a gift for a friend and they do the same (he’s pretty cheap since he cites the gift as being ten bucks) and doesn’t see the point. Mira stresses it’s the giving that matters, and we’re probably setting up for a holiday lesson that will pay off in the end. Some kid then goes running by and mistakes XR for a toy snatching him up and thus proving his point for him. I also can’t help but notice that the characters have yet to say “Christmas” and instead use the generic term “holiday.” It’s sort of weird to have a holiday just named “The Holiday,” but apparently there was no Space Christ for a Christmas to arise from.
They soon turn their attention to Santa Buzz who’s working the crowd. A large man in a red suit soon approaches needing Buzz’s help and it’s plainly obvious that this guy is going to turn out to be Santa (Earl Boen). And sure enough, he claims to be Santa! Buzz thinks he’s crazy and isn’t eager to help him out with whatever problem he currently has. Fellow ranger, Booster (Stephen Furst), then calls for backup and Buzz bails. As Santa calls out to him practically begging for help he refers him to Mira to provide a statement.
Buzz then happens upon Booster who too was playing Santa in a different part of town to collect donations. The kids have turned on him though as they recognized the big, red, alien is not Santa. He’s hiding in terror behind his collection bucket as the locals pelt him with snowballs. When Buzz arrives, they stop momentarily to regard him and soon claim he isn’t Santa either. When Buzz insists that he is they ask him to explain how he can possibly get toys to every kid in the galaxy in a single night, and Buzz confesses that he can’t. They ready their arms, and Buzz distracts them with promises of destruction by offering to show off his wrist laser. Problem solved!
Mira is still taking “Santa’s” statement back in town. He had something stolen, but can’t say what. While Buzz is regaling the children with tales of his exploits until Star Command sends out a signal for him to return to base. They all return to an orbiting space station where Commander Nebula (Adam Corolla) hands over a list of crimes Zurg apparently intends to commit. It’s the usual sort of stuff, but ends with Buzz’s newspaper being stolen on the list which really seems to piss him off.
The first item was to sabotage the fleet, so Buzz and team head to where they think Zurg is going to strike only to find nothing. Buzz thinks he was scared off, and then a flash of white light and snowflakes appear for a second. When it fades all of the space ships are in disarray. Buzz is in disbelief over what he just witnessed, but has no time to ponder how Zurg did it because next on the list was busting out everyone in a space prison. The fleet is scrambled and Buzz and team are shown surrounding the jail. Once again, a flash of light and snowflakes occurs and when it fades Buzz and his subordinates are surrounded by escaping criminals! And then to top it off, the next morning Buzz emerges from his home in his robe to find his paper waiting for him. He’s comforted by its presence, but as he reaches for it a flash of light and snowflakes once again occurs, and Zurg (Wayne Knight) appears with newspaper in hand. He offers a quick pleasantry and then vanishes!
Back in town, Buzz is overseeing the lighting of a giant, holographic, Christmas tree. It lacks the charm of an evergreen, but at least it’s environmentally friendly. Soon the man claiming to be Santa reappears to once again request Buzz’s aide. Buzz is in a grumpy mood on account of the Zurg stuff and is in no mood to even entertain this guy’s request. The rest of the team bails too since they think this Santa guy is literally insane. Santa pushes back though and is pretty insistent on who he is. He does allow himself to get frustrated though as he wonders aloud why no one believes him. Clearly, no one realizes they’re in a Christmas special. Buzz then explains he stopped believing when he was 9 because he didn’t get the laser he wanted. Santa knows, and he knows why he didn’t get what he wanted. For one, he wasn’t going to gift a 9-year-old a weapon for Christmas, and two, Buzz was actually on the naughty list for shooting the fur off of his cat’s tail.
Buzz is pretty shocked that Santa knows this as blasting Fluffy was something only he knew about. Now that he finally believes this guy is Santa, it’s the perfect opportunity for Zurg to strike again. He’s going full Grinch this time as he steals the giant, hologram of a tree with the same flashing lights and snowflakes as before. And it’s not just the tree, as Buzz receives a transmission from Star Command that Zurg has hit all of the other planets in the galaxy and stolen everything related to the holiday! They keep teasing the line too that Zurg stole Christmas, but no one actually goes so far as to say it as they still insist on not saying Christmas. They had me on the edge of my seat just waiting for it!
Santa then has Buzz hop into his Christmas tree-shaped spaceship to take him to his work shop on North Polaris. It looks like a snowglobe of a planet, which is pretty near. There Buzz meets the elves, which are actually “LGMs” or Little Green Men (the squishy aliens from Toy Story). They are decked-out in elf attire (and also voiced by Warburton, but with his voice sped up) and apparently serve Santa. They finally spill the beans on what Zurg stole from Santa. Apparently, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Santa uses a device that stops time to deliver presents. He used to use some impossibly fast jetpack contraption, but apparently he’s too old for it. The elves are working on a replacement, but it’s still a week away from completion and Christmas is just two days away. Buzz takes one look at the old hyper-speed accelerator and requests it be strapped to his back.
Buzz radios ahead to his teammates and instructs them to meet him on Trade World. Their the group rendezvous with Buzz and Santa, only the rest of the team still wants to discuss the whole Santa thing. There’s no time though, and Santa demands they help decorate the place for the holiday. As they do, they broadcast out a message designed to infuriate Zurg and basically challenge him to come wreck their holiday again. Zurg sees the broadcast and acts accordingly, while Buzz shows off his new toy. Santa’s hyper-speed whatever thing has been strapped to Buzz’s back and looks ridiculous. It’s a giant snowflake, but the side is what is strapped to Buzz so it extends off of his back twice his height. The other rangers aren’t sure of this plan, but Buzz tells them they just need to go at Zurg when he shows up to make him think they don’t have any real plan for dealing with him.
Zurg then arrives on Trade World flying around in this Dr. Robotnik-like ship. He’s predictably pompous, and I have to say I love the choice of Wayne Knight for his voice. Santa informs Buzz he has to activate the hyper-speed accelerator at the exact moment Zurg uses his stolen device to stop time. Zurg readies his item as the other rangers surround him and engages it. Everyone appears to freeze in place, including Buzz! Oh woe, Christmas is ruined! As Zurg starts wrecking up the place and celebrating his victory, the frozen Buzz comes to life!
Buzz breaks out the one-liners (“I’d say the yuletide has turned!”) and the rock music kicks in. It’s battle time! Zurg chases after Buzz and opens fire with his laser blaster. Buzz does some Matrix moves to avoid it demonstrating his impressive speed. As the two zoom around the city, Zurg blasts a bunch of holiday decorations that Buzz apparently feels compelled to save. Zurg laughs at him and tells Buzz his devotion to his holiday has made him weak. Oh, that’s where you’re wrong Zurg, it’s made him more powerful! They do the Dragon Ball Z thing of zooming around as lights and eventually come to blows.
When the dust settles, Buzz’s hyperspeed accelerator is destroyed and Zurg has lost his grip on the time stopping device, which frees everyone else. Buzz and Zurg meet in a standoff in front of a billboard lit up red as the snow begins to fall. It’s quite an impressive visual. Zurg then finds out he’s out of ammo, and as Buzz declares victory, he summons his little buggy thing which knocks Buzz over. Zurg jumps into it ready to escape, but Buzz tells him he lost since he doesn’t possess the ability to stop time any longer. Zurg points out that the device is broken so Santa can’t either. He’s ruined everyone’s holiday! XR even admits that Zurg has won.
Zurg escapes and the rangers return to Santa’s work shop. They’re all pretty down as without the ability to stop time Santa can’t bring everyone their gifts. XR then asks what Santa did before he had all of this fancy tech, and he shows them. A bright, red, sleigh is summoned and Buzz is pretty taken by it right away. He jumps in and ponders what it uses for fuel, and Santa predictably confirms it runs on belief. The belief in Santa.
Everyone starts to proclaim they believe, and apparently it takes very little to fill the tank. With Buzz, Mira, and Booster all professing their belief it’s nearly full, but they need one more person. Santa confronts XR about his lack of belief and basically tells him he knows that he believes in him more than anyone, even though he’s rather insistent that he does not. When he asks how Santa knows that, he replies simply that he’s Santa! It’s kind of cheap as the sleigh then fills with power without XR actually declaring his belief. With it at full power, some lights extend off of the front of it. It kind of looks like an old TV antenna that used to adorn every house, but it’s in the shape of a Christmas tree. There are lights where the reindeer would be, though only six. A seventh, red, light is at the tip.
With the sleigh powered-up, Santa just needs some helpers. Buzz and the gang dawn space helmets and they take off for other planets. Buzz even gets to drive the sleigh! We see a montage of the gang sneaking into houses to leave presents, the best of which is a reverse of a scene from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. A bunch of fish aliens are sharing a bed in a manner similar to Cindy Lou Who and her siblings. Mira slides a candy cane under the hands of one of the fish kids, rather than stealing a candy cane out from under her.
The gang ends up back at the work shop where Santa toasts hot chocolate to a job well done. The only thing is one person is missing: XR. Apparently he had a special task to attend to and we cut to a little boy’s room where XR is the actual present. It would seem he gifted himself to the little kid from the beginning of the episode which is…weird. We don’t get to see how he untangles himself from that situation to return to work as the episode ends on a shot of the family’s tree with a Space Rangers logo where a star would normally be. That’s actually kind of weird and is like placing a police badge or something at the top of one’s tree. If you do that at your house well more power to you, I guess. I stick with a star.
Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is a show I wish had existed when I was younger. It has a nice pace to it and the dialogue is rather witty. I love Warburton as Buzz and his supporting cast is solid as well. Knight is fantastic as Zurg and I wouldn’t mind seeing more episodes where he has an even bigger presence. The animation is also way beyond what I expected. Perhaps Pixar had something to prove because everything looks great. The lighting especially is dynamic and I had a great time just taking this one in. The action scene with Zurg and Buzz was set to techno music and gave off some serious Samurai Jack vibes, even though this show actually predates that one.
As a Christmas story, this one is both fun and odd. The characters never actually say Christmas during the episode. It’s just referred to as a holiday and obviously shares a lot of the same imagery and even an icon. The animators kind of screw up though as the word “Noel” is present during the city fight between Buzz and Zurg. If they were avoiding the term Christmas because it references Christ, then they should have avoided noel as well since it translates to “to be born,” and is a reference to Christ as well. The lack of reindeer is almost bizarre, but I get that they wanted to do their own space thing with it. Santa does have decorative reindeer antlers on his seat in his spaceship, so maybe he had them once upon a time and now they’re dead. I definitely like that the show went for a Grinch plot with Zurg, made all the more obvious by the visual gesture during the montage near the end. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the best Christmas special ever, why more shows don’t borrow from it confuses me. We have a million different versions of A Christmas Carol, and hardly any Grinch plots. It’s 50 years old at this point, it’s fair game!
This special could have been pretty manipulative since it telegraphs everything that’s coming our way. We know XR is going to come around on the holiday, we know Santa is telling the truth about who he is before he ever opens his mouth, and we also know that the heroes will prevail. The episode does a good job though of not really staying with anything too long. It does come close with the Santa/XR confrontation, and that bit is probably the weakest part, but at least it doesn’t get too sappy. They also made room for humor during the exchange, such as Buzz declaring you can’t force someone to believe in anything followed by him ordering XR to believe in Santa. The montage was a good move, and making the kid get XR as a present is more funny than heart-warming so it works and doesn’t betray the spirit of the show.
Bizarrely, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command is pretty hard to come by. Disney never released it on DVD or Blu Ray, and has yet to add it to Disney+. It doesn’t make much sense to leave it off, but for now the company is not being protective with it. That means you can find it online rather easily, though everything is going to be a rip from a TV broadcast. I assume it’s only a matter of time until Disney brings it to their streaming platform, but for now it’s basically YouTube or bust. If you like Toy Story then give it a look. It’s pretty fun and visually it’s definitely worthwhile. I think I even like it more than Toy Story That Time Forgot and if Disney were smart it would start airing that special alongside this one during the holidays. Of course, I’m the type of person that thinks Disney should be running a ton of its holiday themed episodes and specials on ABC this time of year so maybe I’m biased.