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By Thomas Wheeler

It occurred to me that it's been a while since I've purchased and reviewed a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Granted, there weren't really any new ones out there that happened to catch my eye -- until I found their new "Space Mission" theme.

Mattel, current license-holder for most Toy Story toy products, has come up with a very cool post-Toy Story 3 concept for their Toy Story action figures. Dubbed simply "Space Mission", it places most of the characters into Buzz's world of outer space galactic adventure. We get to see the likes of Sheriff Woody and Rex the Dinosaur in spacesuits, and there's a new command center for Buzz that's designed to look like the box in which he was originally packaged in the first movie.

And, of course, there's a new Buzz Lightyear figure that's part of this collection. But he's a little different-looking than any Buzz Lightyear I've previously encountered.

Let's consider the background of this extremely cool character, who since his introduction in 1995 has become one of the most iconic individuals to ever come out of Disney and Pixar.

Buzz Lightyear is a space ranger action figure and the co-leader of Andy's Room. He has also appeared in the movie Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins and the television series spin-off Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, as well as the two film sequels. His often repeated catchphrase is "To infinity... and beyond!" Tim Allen voiced the character in the Toy Story film trilogy and the TV movie, while Patrick Warburton provided Buzz's voice for the TV series, and Pat Fraley voiced him for the video games and the attractions in Disney Parks.

Buzz Lightyear's name was inspired by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.Aldrin acknowledged the tribute when he pulled a Buzz Lightyear doll out during a speech to rapturous cheers; a clip of this can be found on the Toy Story 10th Anniversary DVD.

Regarding the design of Lightyear, his creator, John Lasseter, is on record as saying he wanted to create an action figure along the lines of G.I. Joe for Toy Story and decided upon a spaceman figure.He attributes his design to the influence Apollo astronauts, in particular their clear helmets, skullcaps, communication devices and white suits. The purple and lime green color scheme were his wife's and his own favorite colors respectively.

In the first Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear is first seen when given as a gift to Andy at his birthday party. Buzz is the most popular toy in the media at that time, and Andy's toys are quickly amazed at the impressive features that he has. However, Woody, the leader of Andy's toys, immediately grows jealous of the attention Buzz gets. The friction between the two is soon put aside when they save themselves and each other from a "toy murderer", Sid.

In Toy Story 2, Buzz Lightyear appears as the main protagonist and must assume the leader of the gang, in order to rescue Woody, who was captured by a toy collector named Al. Things get complicated when a toy named Stinky Pete tries to force Woody to get shipped to Japan with him, a pull-string doll named Jessie, and her horse, Bullseye. Buzz and the toys eventually rescue Woody, Jessie and Bullseye, who come to live in Andy's room with the other toys.

In Toy Story 3, Woody, Buzz, and the gang end up in a daycare center, whom the leader of the toys is evil Lots-O-Huggin' Bear. Buzz is caught spying, and turned back to "demo mode". Therefore, he thinks he is a real space ranger again, and turns on his friends. Buzz turns back to his normal self, after he nearly gets crushed by a television set in a garbage truck. After many situations they face, Buzz, Woody, Jessie, and the other toys are given by Andy to a little girl named Bonnie. The end credits show the toys embracing their new life with Bonnie.

In the movie and subsequent TV series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, which might be said to take place in the "Buzz-verse" and Buzz is not a toy, Buzz is a space ranger working for Star Command, protecting the universe from Emperor Zurg. He works in a team alongside Mira Nova, a Tangean princess with phasing powers, Booster, a janitor from the planet Jo-Ad, and XR, a robot created by the Little Green Men (the aliens from the movies, LGMs for short).

Buzz is a space ranger from the Intergalactic Alliance and is stationed in the Gamma Quadrant of Sector 4. He is the captain of the Alliance's Team. Lightyear is known for his bravery and courage. Buzz believes that following rules is the way people should live their life. Though a great leader, at times he can be rather unemotional, one of his biggest character flaws. Buzz is said to be Emperor Zurg's son (a la Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back) as mentioned in Toy Story 2, but in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, this is revealed to be a taunt intended to catch Buzz off guard.

Either way, this shows that Buzz does not know his father (although as mentioned in Toy Story 2, he was indeed killed, possibly by Zurg, as neither of these facts have been refuted). Buzz is trained in several forms of martial arts and is a highly skilled warrior in hand to hand combat. Being in peak physical condition, Buzz makes a perfect space ranger and is an example to many. Perhaps unexpectedly, Buzz Lightyear the space ranger toy enjoys his closest personal relationships with two cowboy dolls: his best friend in the trilogy is Sheriff Woody Pride, who along with Buzz is the main protagonist of the three films, and by the end of Toy Story 2, he has developed a crush on Jessie the Cowgirl, which is continued in Toy Story 3.

Buzz wears a high-tech space suit, similar to those of modern-day astronauts though more streamlined and iconic. The suit chest features a control panel. On the left hand side of the suit, a large red button activates the suit's flight system. The buttons on the right of the suit have numerous functions such as contacting Star Command, shooting grappling hooks, and activating full throttle. On the toy Buzz of movies however, all they do is make Buzz say different catch phrases. Buzz's suit also protects against the vacuum and cold of space. It can also translate all he says into any language even an outer space dialect. A retractable helmet, when activated, covers Buzz's head and allows him to breathe in space or on planets lacking a sufficient supply of oxygen. The left arm of the suit has a panel that flips open to reveal a display that contains a mission log in the wrist area to record history and provide records. The right arm contains the weapon system which projects an unusually strong and powerful red-colored laser out of the small cannon on the back of the wrist. Buzz has a utility belt as an upgrade to suit. It has various things such as anti-gravity servos, magnets for climbing purposes, and a grappling hook.

In May 2008, NASA and Disney announced that an original Thinkway Toys' Buzz Lightyear action figure would fly aboard the space shuttle Discovery on mission STS-124. The 12-inch toy was to remain on the International Space Station for six months, where it would take part in an experiment and appear in a video downlink from space. The flight was arranged as part of the Toys In Space program that began in 1985.

The mission launched with Buzz aboard the NASA space shuttle Discovery (STS-124) on May 31, 2008, to celebrate the opening of Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's California Adventure theme parks, with the ultimate destination of the International Space Station (ISS). The action figure "ate" dinner with the 10 astronauts and cosmonauts and was seen peering out a window aboard the ISS. The action figure stayed aboard the space station for a period of six months as part of a NASA toys-in-space educational program.

Buzz's "mission" was part of an educational experience for students while stressing the catchphrase "To infinity... and beyond!". The action figure was used for experiments in zero-g.

Also in 2008, the popular phrase made international news when it was reported that a father and son had continually repeated the phrase to help them keep track of each other while treading water for 15 hours in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Buzz Lightyear action figure returned from the space station on Sept. 11, 2009 aboard mission STS-128.

On October 2007, readers of Empire voted him #1 of the Top 20 Greatest Pixar Characters.They also rated him the 94th greatest movie character of all time.

I should also mention that Buzz Lightyear is the central character of a very cool ride in the Disney theme parks, called "Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin". I've been fortunate enough to go on it some years ago, and it's a blast.

So, how's the figure? Extremely cool. Now, there's been no shortage of Buzz Lightyear action figures over the years, from a number of companies -- ThinkWay, Hasbro, Mattel, and within Disney itself. Everything from action figures that appeared largely in the preschool section for some reason, to high-end toys that were nearly as capable as those in the movies.

And I have a fair number of Buzz Lightyear action figures myself. The majority of these fall into the category of the 12" scale figures that have been manufactured by ThinkWay. They've come up with some interesting variations over the years, including a very patriotic Buzz in red-white-and-blue, and another Buzz with a transparent body that lights up like a Christmas tree when he talks. Their most recent one which I acquired was part of the Toy Story 3 line, and featured improved wings that were more accurate to the movie design, among other enhancements.

Space Mission Buzz Lightyear is not one of these. That should not be regarded as a criticism. He's an abundantly cool figure, and as I stated earlier, is part of Mattel's ongoing Toy Story line that has carried on following the third movie.

What makes this Buzz Lightyear distinctive is the color of his uniform. Although the purple and green have been maintained, the primary color of Space Mission Buzz Lightyear's uniform is a very dark gray. It's very nearly black, and would probably be regarded as black if it wasn't for a few black details on the uniform that allow you to see that the main uniform color is -- well, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is white and 10 is black, it's probably 9.85 black. There's not much of a difference, but there's a slight one.

The figure overall does look like Buzz, of course. The steely gaze, the large blue eyes, the heroic grin, the chin that would give Jay Leno a case of jaw envy...

Buzz stands about 5-1/4" to the top of his head, and 5-1/2" to the top of his clear helmet. His head, of course, has the purple cowl wrapped around it, with a purple collar and green outer collar. The massive chestplate is mostly bright green, with purple straps wrapping around the back. He has a blue utility belt, and there is green trim around the gloves and feet. The bottoms of his boots are purple, with treads.

In the center of his chestplate is the emblem of the Space Rangers. To his left side is a large red button, and a nameplate reading "Lightyear". To the right is a series of three oblong buttons, blue, green, and red. He has his Laser button on his upper right arm, and another Space Ranger emblem on his upper left arm. As far as I can determine, the center emblem and the wording over the Laser button are stickers, while the nameplate on the chest and the emblem on the left arm are imprints. Not sure why it was done this way, but that's just an observation.

The figure obviously does not have all the capabilities of a larger Buzz Lightyear action figure. He's less than half the height, and only cost about ten dollars. None of his buttons activate any sound effects, his laser does not light up, and his wings do not spring out of his flight pack on his back -- although the flight pack is present and accounted for. Additionally, his helmet is permanently in a "half up" position. The lack of electronics didn't surprise me, but this did, just a bit. Still, I don't regard it as a big deal.

There's something about the mostly black uniform, previously unheard of on a Buzz Lightyear figure from any line as far as I know, that makes Buzz look just a little more impressive -- although as a somewhat cartoonish astronaut type figure, I don't think it would've been appropriate for this to have been Buzz's "default" look. The white uniform as he appears in the movies is certainly appropriate. However, he looks very cool in black, and it does make the bright green, purple, and blue trim stand out that much more.

I would hesitate to call this a "stealth" version of Buzz, though, just because of the black. With that bright green chestplate, I don't think he's going to be sneaking up on much of anybody. Then again, the vehicles of G.I. Joe's Night Force featured neon red trim and glow-in-the-dark labels, so who knows, right?

Some of the sculpted details are amusing. Since this is supposed to be an action figure of a Buzz Lightyear action figure (did everyone follow that?), there's a number of tiny little screw-heads sculpted into the figure, on the backs of the arms, insides of the upper legs, and the back of the flight pack. None of these screws are real, of course, so don't go taking a small Phillips to them.

The figure's articulation is decent, if not spectacular, and the design of the figure can throw you off just a bit as to what's articulated and what isn't. Buzz does not have any upper arm rotation, nor do his wrists, ankles, or waist move. However, he is fully poseable at the arms, elbows, legs, and knees.

The package illustration on the back of his card would tend to indicate that Buzz Lightyear's head is supposed to turn, but the head on my figure won't budge. I'm not sure if it's because I can't quite get my adult-sized fingers to get a decent grip on either side of the head inside the helmet, or if it's just plain stuck, or if perhaps that articulation point was removed for some reason. If that's the case, then I'm a least grateful that his head is pointed straight forward, and not turned to the side.

The elbows are somewhat odd, in that they are articulated sideways, rather than forward, but if you consider the figure's proportions and how he moves in the movies, this is reasonably appropriate. And in the case of this figure, it readily allows him to assume some of the heroic poses that you see here in this review.

Fortunately, the shoulder movement is sufficient to allow him a decent range of overall arm motion. Collectors need to keep in mind that the Toy Story line, however popular these characters have become with people of all ages, is a more kid-oriented line, and as such, the toys are not going to have 50 points of articulation and be capable of all the latest dance moves.

And, despite being a bit top-heavy, just from his design, Buzz stands very nicely. No worries about falling over.

The paintwork is for the most part very neatly done, especially on the face. Buzz's eyes are particularly well done. However, I believe some of the trim was painted by hand, including the buttons on the chestplate, and the trim on the glove cuffs and boots. Fortunately for Buzz, these details are so pronounced that it would be difficult for even hand-painted detailing to mess it up, but I still feel obliged to mention that I oppose hand-painted detailing of mass produced action figures simply because appropriate consistency and neatness on a mass-production level such as this is virtually impossible. That's why paint stencils were invented.

So, what's my final word? I'm glad I picked up this Space Mission Buzz Lightyear. He's clearly Buzz, but the near-black uniform is an interesting twist on the original design, and I think he looks pretty cool in this new outfit color. As a "specialty" suit, it really works. The figure is nicely made and well detailed, and certainly is accurate to the character. And for those of you who simply don't have the money or the room for all of the large-scale variations that have come out over the years, here is a distinctly affordable alternative. And I believe that this is a Buzz that any fan of Toy Story will enjoy.

The TOY STORY figure of SPACE MISSION BUZZ LIGHTYEAR definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation -- To Infinity and Beyond!