‘Lightyear’s revamped Emperor Zurg was inspired by anime

Image via Pixar/Disney

Where Buzz Lightyear goes, so does his eternal nemesis, Evil Emperor Zurg, the sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance. So just as this summer’s Lightyear will reimagine its titular hero, with Chris Evans taking over as the legendary Space Ranger from Toy Story‘s Tim Allen, it will also feature a revamped version of Zurg. The armored villain had previously been glimpsed in earlier promos, but his full form was finally unveiled in the final trailer, which dropped online this Thursday.

In keeping with the movie’s more serious take on Buzz and his mythology, this Zurg is a lot more intimidating a threat, appearing as less of a cliched cartoon bad guy and more like an oversized video game boss. Interestingly, it seems the Lightyear team drew from anime influences for this new Zurg, as revealed by art director Greg Peltz. The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Peltz in the wake of the final trailer’s release, who opened up about the challenging process of updating Zurg.

“Adapting Zurg for our movie was a tall order. The original design from Toy Story 2 is iconic, and we wanted to draw from that source material as much as possible. But at the same time, our movie has a look that is more mature and detailed than the original toy version of the character. We needed our Zurg to fit within the hard-boiled sci-fi world that we had created.”

Peltz went on to stress that the design team wanted Zurg to be “intimidating,” which led them to the concept of turning him into a “giant robot,” akin to the mecha characters you might find in anime.

“His design has to be intimidating so he could carry the menace and the presence our story demanded. Taking all of those goals together, reimagining the character as a giant robot was a natural fit … In addition to our other sci-fi inspirations, Zurg also takes cues from super robots and mecha in Japanese anime.”

Although referenced in 1995’s Toy Story, Zurg didn’t appear until 1999’s Toy Story 2, where he was essentially depicted as a parody of Darth Vader. Although Star Wars is definitely an influence on Lightyear, obviously, the film is aiming to be more original, so drawing inspiration from anime and other sources is a smart way to make the cosmic overlord into less of a walking spoof. And we’re guessing he won’t be Buzz’s secret dad in this one, either.

Zurg hasn’t spoken in the trailers, but we know that James Brolin, father of Thanos himself, Josh Brolin, will be voicing him, so we can’t wait to see how Brolin’s performance will add to this top-to-bottom do-over of the character. Lightyear blasts into theaters on June 17.