Lightyear director Angus MacLane has explained why Zurg was redesigned for the upcoming Toy Story spinoff.
In an interview with Empire, MacLane talked about the decisions that went into transforming Zurg from a children's toy to a large robot. "The Darth Vader skirt we jettisoned for functionality reasons," said MacLane. "We needed him to move differently, not wheel around. I didn’t want it to be a regal, king-like character. I wanted him to move like a robot." Lightyear Sets Art Director Greg Peltz added the team looked at anime to help make Zurg look more intimidating: "There’s a really cool approach to tech and stylisation of mechanics in anime."
Evil Emperor Zurg first appeared in 1999's Toy Story 2, after being mentioned several times by Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear in 1995's Toy Story. The villain was considered Buzz Lightyear's Darth Vader, from the character design to the twist reveal that Zurg was Buzz's father, a clear homage to the iconic scene between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back.
Lightyear will leave out the Star Wars references, doing away with the familial connection between Zurg and Buzz. MacLane has also disclosed that the new Zurg will not include the character's Toy Story 2 cape. The director noted that 2004's The Incredibles showed why superheroes and villains should not wear a cape on their costumes: "As anyone who's seen The Incredibles knows, losing the cape is essential for the functionality of a villain," MacLane said, while teasing that Lightyear did find a "way to pay that off interestingly in the movie."
Andrew Stanton voiced Zurg in Toy Story 2, but the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E will not be reprising the role in Lightyear. James Brolin has instead been hired to play the villainous character in Lightyear, which will mark his first foray into animation. Brolin has opened up about portraying the popular antagonist and revealed that he initially had no idea who he was playing in the Pixar film. "They crossed out the word Zurg. I got my lines but knew nothing about the [story]," Brolin said. Once the actor was let in on who he was portraying, Brolin found himself being inspired by his son Josh Brolin's portrayal of Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "You know, my son played a pretty mean guy," he said. "[The filmmakers] talked about Zurg being threatening one minute, then nice, then conning… So I just started reading [with that in mind]."
In addition to Brolin's Zurg, the Lightyear voice cast includes Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear, Keke Palmer as Izzy Hawthorne, Peter Sohn as the robotic cat Sox and Taika Waititi as Mo Morrison. Lightyear opens in theaters on June 17.