As all the lead-up press explained, the Pixar movie Lightyear follows the “real” Buzz Lightyear — meaning a movie version of the character who inspired the toy from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise. Buzz is a grown-up Space Ranger on a hairy mission to save his fellow Rangers from a dangerous world, so there are no toys in the movie. There is, however, a character heavily inspired by real-life toys: Sox the robotic cat, Buzz Lightyear’s personal companion.
Voiced by The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn, Sox is assigned as Buzz’s therapeutic aid after Buzz comes back from a harrowing mission in space. The robot cat is able to do complex mathematical calculations and hack computers, but also likes to chase lasers and rub up against Buzz’s leg. Director Angus MacLane tells Polygon that Sox’s design ended up being deliberately simplistic, more like a 1990s robot toy than any high-tech, futuristic sci-fi android companion.
“Sox is kind of like a toy, a simple animatronic toy,” MacLane says. “It’s not a very convincing animal. But it’s doing the best that it can. It’s the one toy in the movie. It’s like a fancy action figure. I find [its] limited movement really funny as an animator, and it contrasts nicely with everything else in the movie.”
Another toylike trait of Sox’s? His texture. Sox isn’t metallic or plastic. He’s flocked, much like Calico Critters or certain types of Breyer Horses. As MacLane describes it, Sox’s texture is a sort of glue sprayed on vinyl, with some poofy fabric attached.
“Flocking is funny. Seeing those seam lines is really entertaining,” laughs producer Galyn Susman. But as it turns out, that flocking texture also adds an interesting perk for an alien-filled sci-fi world. “It’s a fire-retardant material, because people put them in bed with kids, and you don’t want something flammable!”
As for why Sox is a cat instead of any of the other possible animal companions, the answer is pretty simple: MacLane is a big cat person.
“I thought a cat that was helpful was funny, because they’re not usually very helpful,” he says.
Lightyear is out on Disney Plus now.