There seems to be no escaping the Walt Disney Company. They now own a countless number of brands and are responsible for 6 of the 10 highest grossing films of all time. Thus far, their animation department has produced 58 feature films, while their live action department have provided around 300, including documentaries. Their subscription service Disney+ has surpassed 50 million subscribers since launching in America in November 2019 and going worldwide in March 2020. Not only are they big, but they seem to be getting bigger. However, they have themselves a huge problem. It’s the homophobia.
By now, many of you will have seen articles citing “Disney’s first LGBT Character” and retorts like “bet China disposes of that scene” but both those statements are wrong. Yes, China has been known to cut mentions of LGBT characters from their films, but that isn’t always the case. The fact of the matter is that there aren’t enough LGBT characters in the Disney vault to begin with. Oddly, there are several openly gay characters in shows on the Disney Channel, so why the hold up when it comes to the big screen? You could claim that their bigger ventures are the primary source of income and they want to avoid upsetting the very vocal crowd who claim they are “pandering to the PC brigade.” The fact is that the Walt Disney Company is powerful enough, rich enough, to survive any backlash, so it probably has more to do with the people in charge. You may be thinking to yourself that Disney has several LGBT characters because you’ve seen the articles. Well lets take a look at those super important characters, shall we?
Disney’s first openly gay character was Oaken in 2013’s Frozen. You may remember him for his iconic line “yoo-hoo, big summer blow-out” or his minimised role in the sequel. He waves to his family in the sauna, consisting of a man and four children. This confirms that he is gay because, presumably, male relatives just don’t exist in Arendelle. Disney have since confirmed this to be his male partner, but we still have no idea what his name is. All we know is that he and Oaken have around 5 minutes of screentime with Oaken saying only several lines.
Disney’s first gay couple is in 2016’s Zootopia, The next door neighbours of Judy Hopps are a pair of male Antelopes named Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson. They bicker a lot but they seem to really care about each other. They get more audio-time than screentime but had Judy interacted with them more, I think they could have been super important.
Disney’s first gay couple is in 2016’s Finding Dory. As Dory and Hank are hopping through prams, they find themselves in one belonging to a lesbian couple. Now, there is no on-screen indication that they are lesbians, but the folks at PIXAR state they are. Honestly, I think they have it right by casually putting a gay couple in a film and not making a song and dance about it. Sure, it might have been more appreciated had they done it a decade ago and Disney hadn’t turned it into this huge deal. As is they are two un-named characters in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.
Disney’s first openly gay character is LeFou in 2017’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. His big moment comes when we see 3 seconds of him dancing with a man in the background of the final ballroom scene. Never mind that “Le Fou” translates to “the fool” in English, I’m sure that it wont be misconstrued by the audience you are trying to represent, Any credit here has to go to Lefou’s actor Josh Gad who, admittedly, comes across as extremely camp. A decent effort from an actor in a film that doesn’t deserve it
Disney’s first openly gay character is in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame. During a counselling meeting led by Captain America, a character playd by director Joe Russo mentions that he went on a date with a man. Of all the people who could have been given this role, they turned it into a director cameo which seems a little pretentious. It was cut out of many foreign releases, but the worst thing about it is that this is the MCU. Marvel has many openly gay Characters, and they have had a whole decade to do something with that. Supposedly one of the main characters in next years The Eternals will be gay but, quite frankly, it’s too late. They had their chance and they blew it.
Disney’s first gay couple are in 2019’s Toy Story 4. Again it is a lesbian couple, but this time they are dropping off their child at Kindergarten. It’s such a quick shot that I genuinely missed it upon first viewing the film.
Disney’s first openly gay character is in 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Commander D’acy, who has had several scenes between this film and its predecessor, shares a kiss on-screen with another woman. It is a moment that genuinely took me by surprise but it simply isn’t enough. As with some of the previous entries, it’s an extraordinarily brief moment of screentime. We also don’t know the name of the woman she kissed or really what Commander D’acys first name is. Inevitably, it was cut from many foreign releases.
You’ll notice that I’ve started off these paragraphs in roughly the same way, and that’s because the media has reported each of these instances the exact same way: “Disney’s first LGBT character” can only be true once, and I’m not convinced that it’s been earned yet. As far as I, and many others are concerned, to be classed as character you must first have a name which narrows our selection down to 3. It’s either Lefou, Commander D’acy, or Bucky and Prong. If we’re being honest, I think we all know that Commander D’acy is not a Disney character, she’s a Star Wars character. One may distribute the other, but Star Wars existed before Disney and would continue to exist without them. Bucky and Prong share the same last name, but that could just be because they are brothers. Families can have double barrel names and there’s nothing on-screen that really solidifies them being a couple. That just leaves us with LeFou, who is an original Disney character and does show signs that he might not be totally straight. I suppose that makes him “Disney’s first ever openly gay character” if I’m being generous.
If this was all that Disney had done, it would be bad, but there’s a chance it wouldn’t have been enough to assemble the riotous mobs. This is where their placating comes in. The intention is to defuse any possible hostility towards them before it arises, but instead it has lit an unquellable flame. They have become known for having characters that seem to be queer-coded, like Elsa from Frozen, but when questioned about it refuse to comment on it. We’ve also seen it in the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, which is where that fire becomes an inferno. It’s no secret that actors involved in these franchises, like Tessa Thompson and Oscar Isacc, want to represent the LGBT community through their characters. It’s also no secret that they have tried to follow up on that but have been prevented from doing so. In Thor: Ragnarok, Thompson plays Valkerie, whose scenes with her girlfriend were cut from the film and seem to have vanished off the face of the Earth. You can still catch a glimpse of her in Valkerie’s flashback as the woman being impaled. Meanwhile Oscar Isacc has been ridiculously vocal about the romantic relationship between his Star Wars character Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s character Finn, as has Boyega. In both these instances, the actors cited that The House of Mouse was to blame.
I feel it’s important to note that Disney is not doing enough when it comes to LGBT representation, especially in their children’s movies which is where most of my examples were drawn from. However it is also important to mention that some members of the LGBT community are placing way too much faith in this company to provide that representation, especially when you consider that they are not the only company making children’s films. Disney may be one of the largest and most recognisable companies on the face of the planet, but that doesn’t automatically make them the best. Laika has been providing queer representation since 2012’s ParaNorman, while Dreamworks gave us their first openly gay character with 2014’s How to Train Your Dragon 2. Even Warner Brothers Animation managed to get in on the action with 2016’s Storks. It’s very clear, at least to me, that some of the best children’s films ever made didn’t come from Disney. The Incredibles, The Iron Giant, Coraline, and Kiki’s Delivery Service all succeeded without the mouse’s money. Perhaps we need to focus less on the lack of effort by Disney, and more on appreciating the efforts that have been made by other companies. As such, here is a list of the openly queer representation that you can find in the world of children’s animated films.
- Mitch Downe in ParaNorman
- Gay Couples being described as “normal” in Boxtrolls
- “Susan” being deemed a suitable name for a male in Missing Link
- Gobber the Belch in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy
- Gay couples having babies delivered to them in Storks
Admittedly, this isn’t a lot and 2 of these examples aren’t even named characters, but it’s a start and it’s a heck of a lot more than what Disney has accomplished. You may be wondering why it’s even necessary to have gay characters in children’s films, heck children’s media in general. It’s because homophobia is still a real issue and many young people who realise they are gay know that. There are still countries that will imprison or kill you for just being you. Even here in the UK, the statistics are scary for anybody who might come out. These statistics show that 1 in 4 people within the LGBT community experience a hate crime and that 4 in 5 of those people won’t report it. We need to eradicate this mentality, and that starts by teaching the next generation to be more accepting. It also helps to teach the young members of our community know that they are not alone, and that they are still normal. Every movie studio has that responsibility, and it sucks that some companies are willing to less the effort than others.
Until Next Time…