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Warning: This article contains spoilers about Lightyear.
Director Angus Maclane is still somewhat stunned by the enormous response to what most people haven't even seen yet in his Pixar movie Lightyear, which opens in theaters this Friday.
The family-friendly film depicts not only Pixar's first prominent LGBTQ character in a movie but also its first same-sex kiss on screen. That historic kiss has generated a lot of attention, as EW learned it was initially cut out for time before ultimately being reinstated.
In an interview alongside producer Galyn Susman, Maclane tells EW that he's "glad there's been such support" for the scene but says he "didn't realize how significant" the moment would be. "It's not novel, personally," he explains. "First, it was like, 'This is a thing we need for our movie.'"
Lightyear is a sci-fi action adventure about the Buzz Lightyear character from the Toy Story movies. "In the Toy Story universe, it would be like a movie that maybe Andy would have seen, that would have made him want a Buzz Lightyear figure," Maclane previously explained to EW. Chris Evans voices this version of Buzz, a member of Starfleet who is marooned with his crew on a distant planet after crashing their ship. There's a Hail Mary that might get them back up and running: a hyper-speed crystal to fuel their return voyage.
Disney/Pixar Buzz (Chris Evans) and Alisha (Uzo Aduba) go to infinity and beyond in Pixar's 'Lightyear.'
Buzz volunteers to go on test flights to make sure the crystal won't fizzle out, but soon realizes that because he's traveling at light speed, time is flying by for the people he leaves behind thanks to the theory of relativity. The film features a montage of Buzz's return trips, showing time leaping years ahead for his friends on the ground. It's a sequence that highlights the life of Buzz's best friend and Starfleet commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) as she meets, marries, and starts a family with a member of the Starfleet science crew, Kiko. One part of the montage sees an older Alisha sharing a kiss with Kiko while celebrating their son's graduation.
"Narratively, I never wanted Alisha to be a love interest for Buzz because it doesn't help their relationship," Maclane explains. The filmmaker also didn't want the movie to feel like it was setting up what he calls "a second-chance relationship" with Izzy (Keke Palmer), Alisha's granddaughter who ends up aiding Buzz in the future. "Alisha's relationship with Kiko was a way to at least signify that was not part of their relationship."
The finished film has other clear nods to Alisha and Kiko's love story, including Alisha telling Buzz that she married a woman, but the show of affection, along along with other moments from the montage, was initially cut for time. While the kiss ultimately found its way back into the final cut, other more complicated elements were left on the editing floor.
"There used to be more with Alisha and Kiko where we actually saw Kiko pass away and Buzz comfort Alisha," Maclane says. "It was neat to see more of their relationship, but it undercut the following scene. So, it was always, how do we get the emotion of the scene and then move on to the next scene?"
Pixar Keke Palmer's Izzy Hawthorne joins forces with Chris Evans' Buzz in Pixar's 'Lightyear.'
News that Disney had removed its first on-screen same-sex kiss came amid reports that the company had donated large sums of money to Florida politicians supporting the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which states, in part, that conversations around sexual orientation and gender identity "may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3."
Disney has since vowed to reverse course on future political donations and actively work against anti-LGBTQ laws, but the controversy prompted various employees at Pixar to collectively voice their grievances in an open letter. The letter stated, in part, that Disney had a history of censoring LGBTQ characters and stories. It was after this letter was released that the kiss was added back into Lightyear, EW was told by individuals with knowledge of the situation.
"I totally agree with the sentiment," Susman says of the letter. "I'm not always a big fan of sharing with the whole world everything that we're thinking, so though I agree with the sentiment, I probably would've liked it to be released in a different way. But here's the thing — people look to see themselves in films. The more they can find themselves in the movie, the more they can connect to the movie. That's the whole idea when you're working toward having a diverse cast, is to be able to reach out and touch and speak to as many people as you possibly can."
She adds, "To do that successfully means you have to work at authenticity. The whole idea was to make sure that all the representations in the film were as authentic as we could possibly make them. We work with consultants and all kinds of people who give us feedback to make sure we do that right. I think, in the end, we came up with a sequence in the montage that feels authentic, that feels true, that feels natural and organic, and that people can see themselves in the character and feel touched."