Pixar’s epic science fiction adventure Lightyear is full of robot fights and rocket ships — and also really weird futuristic food. Early on in the film, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear eats a pre-made meal made of solid blocks of color-coordinated food chunks that come in a TV dinner-style tray, with an activation system a little like a high-tech version of a military MRE. But the most memorable meals in Lightyear are the strange sandwiches.
[Ed. note: This article contains some light spoilers for Lightyear.]
While scavenging for a key spaceship component, Buzz and some allies take a break to eat snacks from a nearby vending machine. When he unwraps the sandwich, however, Buzz is shocked to discover that instead of the typical bread-meat-bread configuration (or the puffy meat brick he was eating earlier in the movie), he’s looking at two slimy pieces of meat, with a piece of bread and some vegetables between them. He expresses confusion and his companions laugh, boggled by the idea that he thinks a sandwich should feature two slices of bread with everything else between them. When he asks about the gross residue the meat leaves on their fingers, they tell him that’s actually the best part of a sandwich. Clearly, a lot has changed since Buzz last interacted with human society.
Director Angus MacLane says the sandwich schtick started because of a conversation he had with Lightyear writer Matt Aldrich that didn’t even really have much to do with the movie.
“He was describing the top five sandwiches,” recounts MacLane. “We were just talking about food. He could describe each sandwich. And then we were also trying to figure out how different is this world, a world that Buzz doesn’t recognize … Like what if there was like a total meat sandwich and we flipped it? That scene came together basically through that conversation.”
The scene is less about the gross sandwiches and more about how removed Buzz is from humanity. As he stubbornly continues on the futile missions that have dominated his life, the world he keeps leaving behind changes without him, moving on and leaving him stuck in a fixed point in time.
“It’s meant to be a representation of how future generations see things differently,” says MacLane. “Very quickly, whatever you thought was cool is gone.”
It was important to the filmmakers to convey just how far out of time and place Buzz is. But even before they decided on the slimy sandwiches, food was on their minds. An earlier version of the film had more scenes of Buzz’s daily life, including him encountering strange new foods and the evolution of human cuisine past the point he’s familiar with, where every meal comes in an identical box labeled “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” or “Dinner.”
“At one point, we had a scene where Buzz goes grocery shopping,” producer Galyn Susman says. “He has his little pre-assigned meals, and he runs out of them. So he goes in, and he asks for dinner.”
“He’s never shopped before, and he’s like, I’m looking for dinner. And they’re like, Yeah, I don’t think we have that. Plobbles are on sale!” says MacLane, describing spiky space produce the filmmakers created for this movie. “He has to get a plobble. And he takes it home, and he cooks it and he takes one bite, and [we] just cut to the trash can, and he throws it away.” All of these scenes would show just how out of step Buzz is with the rest of society, but one scrapped scene made the metaphor incredibly literal.
“There was one point where he got a job destroying his legacy,” says MacLane. “He literally had to take all the ships he’d flown and squish them into small cubes. [His trainer says] This is really a two-button job, you press this button and then it picks up the ship, and then you press this button.”
Lightyear is in theaters now.