*Dedicated to my amazing sister who reminded me that 2005’s War of the Worlds exists and kick started this whole blog. Love you to the moon and back.*

In December 1937, Walt Disney Animation Studios released the world’s first full length animated feature film- Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. At the time every single frame of animation had to be drawn and coloured by hand, which for an 88 minute long film running at 24 frames per second meant that 126,720 individual frames had to be created. This effort paid off, with Snow White receiving a standing ovation at the premiere and Walt himself receiving an Honorary Academy Award for this significant innovation. Over the next 63 years, the company would grow into the multimedia behemoth that we recognise today, and would give us a further 38 hand-drawn feature films. Then in May of 2000, the company made another big leap with Dinosaur – their first ever Computer Generated film. The following decade would see a mixture of both CG and classically-made animated films, culminating in 2010 with a Tangled, which blended both of these techniques together. Not only is it one of the most expensive animated movies ever made, but it is also one of the most expensive movies ever made, period, with a budget of $260 million.

Tangled is loosely based on the story of Rapunzel, which was published as part of Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1812, but dates as far back as the 11th century to a Persian tale known as Zal and Rudabeth. The story tells of a young prince who after finding a beautiful girl locked in a high tower, plots to aid in her escape. The girl was taken from her family at birth by a sorceress, who enters the tower each day by climbing the girls incredibly long hair. When the sorceress learns of the Prince’s plan, she blinds him and casts the girl into the woods after cutting off her hair. After years of searching, the Prince finally finds the princes, whose tears heal his eyes. It’s a tale fit for the brothers Grimm, but as with Snow White before it, the Walt Disney corporation made it into a ‘family-friendly’ affair. Tangled follows a thief who calls himself Flynn Rider as he steals a tiara from the town of Corona, and from his cohorts the Stabbington Brothers. In an effort to hide away, he climbs a mysterious tall tower where he meets the unknowingly lost princess Rapunzel (and her chameleon Pascal) who demands that he take her to see the floating lanterns in the town. Along the way they must avoid Rapunzel’s “mother” Gothel, the Stabbington brothers, and the Coronian militia (but more specifically a horse named Maximus). Some of these people are after Rapunzel’s magic healing hair, and some just hate Flynn. It’s possibly Disney at their best, taking a tale as old as time and making it new again, as well as turning it into a musical.

What makes Tangled a musical as opposed to a film with songs is that the songs used therein actively drive the plot and give insight into how characters are feeling. This is done to perfection by the amazing Alan Menken, who has already worked on some of the best Disney soundtracks there are. The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and Hercules were all composed by him, and the last of these just so happens to be a personal favourite of mine. I think that what makes Menken’s work so good is that he isn’t writing “just another song”, he is writing a Broadway Musical number. Perhaps two of the best songs in Tangled are Mother Knows Best and I Have A Dream which make use of the surrounding environments within the film. On top of this come the reprisals, which act as another verse to a previous song. For instance, the Reprise of Mother Knows Best takes it from a lighthearted, caring tune to one full of malice. This is unlike the using of a tune over and over again, which Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber is a particular fan of.

The characters themselves are all incredibly likeable. Rapunzel is full of optimism, and though she has been raised to fear the outside world, she eventually comes to learn that she can take care of herself. Flynn Rider is almost the complete opposite, having had to raise himself, soon learning that perhaps life is better when it is shared with someone. Mother Gothel is delightfully entertaining, and is particularly interesting because she doesn’t start out as evil. Yes, she kidnaps a baby princess, but that is purely out of self-obsession in an attempt to stay young and it isn’t until around half way through that she becomes actively malicious. Then there are the ruffians and thugs who each have backstories and personalities and dreams, as well as Pascal and Maximus who each convey every thought without any words (which I think of as The Gromit Principle). Much like with an Edgar Wright production, there aren’t really any background characters, there are just characters.

It has now been a whole decade since Tangled was released and I find myself oddly reflective. At the time, my sister was 6 years old and I was 13. She was the primary demographic for this film and I found myself almost looking up to Flynn Rider. It was a film that the both of us and our parents could enjoy, and was the last of these before my brother came along 2 years later. It’s also one of the earliest memories I have relating to film advertisement campaigns. My sister had some of the toys (including the tower) and initially it was simply advertised as Rapunzel before being changed to Tangled several months before release. It did not get anywhere near the level of exposure that is given to a Disney film today and, in particular, Frozen. It is my belief that Tangled walked so that Frozen could run and I believe it to be the better film. Flynn and Maximus seem to be the basis for Kristoff and Sven, Rapunzel’s desire for freedom is mirrored by Anna’s and Let it Go seems to be designed specifically for Broadway right down to hiring a Broadway star as Elsa. I’ll spare you the “Frozen is fine and extremely over-rated” for today but I really think that Tangled could have been just as big.

Conversations of a sequel were brief as the producers felt that the story was over, but it did receive a 9 minute short set during The Big Wedding called Tangled Ever After. The short film debuted ahead of the 3-D re-release of Beauty & the Beast in 2012 and is a fun little adventure which focuses on Pascal and Maximus. In 2017, an animated series that would become known as Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure began airing on the Disney Channel preceded by an hour long film title Tangled: Before Ever After. Its animated in 2-D and brings back the original cast as well as providing some new songs, and I am now determined to sit down and watch the series itself. This would be easier if Disney+ had made the entire thing available, but I guess I’ll just have to continue to re-watch Tangled instead.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Disney Average

The preservation of our history is important. This includes the history of art and of our pop culture, a large amount of which has been provided or bought by the Walt Disney Company since 1923. My feelings on the House of Mouse are complicated, given that while I grew up with their movies, they are a multi-billion dollar corporation focused on everything that exists. This has really come to a head with the release of their subscription service Disney+ which I was adamant should not be allowed to succeed. As was perhaps inevitable, my family have signed up, and so I can reap the benefits without paying a single penny, which is ideal. So the question remains- being one of its biggest naysayers, what do I make of it?

Without question, the biggest advantage of Disney+ is the access to an extensive catalogue of Disney properties. There are classic shows like Ducktales, and Recess, classic films like Hercules, and The Love Bug, as well as newer hits like Moana and Frozen. There really is something for everyone. There is also a vast amount of cartoon shorts dating back to before 1928’s Steamboat Willie but, ironically, this same catalogue may be one of the service’s greatest flaws. Other subscription services like Netflix and NowTV have a massive selection of ever rotating shows and films from a variety of different companies. Not only do both these of mediums go back decades, but they are coming out with new content at a rapid pace, meaning there is no shortage of things to stream. Disney does not have this advantage. While it is true that The Mouse has an extensive vault, it is not infinite. This is most likely why there are still properties that haven’t yet been uploaded, and I suspect that we may never see a day when 100% of their creations are available. Even with the rate that Disney is swallowing up companies, they will not be able to produce content at the rate it is being consumed.

With the release of Disney+ comes the death of the Disney Vault. This was how the company invented scarcity for their films in the home media market. Once released, a film would be held “in the vault” and re-released on video every 10 years, which was your only opportunity to purchase it. As time progressed, “The Vault” became a generic term for the hypothetical place where Disney stored their past projects, both in film and television. Executive Chairman and former CEO Bob Iger has said [in THIS Variety article] that “at some point fairly soon after launch, it will have the entire Disney motion picture library” which completely eradicates the concept of The Vault, although I couldn’t find a specific statement on their television shows. If we take this statement about Disney+ having everything at face value, then the service for all intents and purposes, will become The New Disney Vault. However I don’t foresee us being given access to 100% of Disney’s content, and even if we do I doubt it will be in its original form. It’s no secret that several films have already been altered, with the most notable being 1984’s Splash! A brief moment of posterior nudity is replaced by some really poor CGI hair extension. Supposedly this was done to make it more child-friendly, so I expect we will see more of these alterations in the months to come.

The true embodiment of Disney+ not being full to the brim with films is the overwhelming lack of Song of the South. This film, released in 1946, focuses on the stories of Brere Rabbit as told by a character called Uncle Remus. It’s one of the earliest instances of a film blending live-action with hand-drawn animation and, as a result, is a semi-important piece of cinematic history. It also features the Academy Award winning song Zip-a-dee-doo-dah which remains part of the societal lexicon to this day. While it has seen cinematic re-releases for various anniversaries in subsequent years, with the last being in 1986, and has screened on television as recently as as 2006, there is still no DVD release. Non-American countries can experience the film on VHS, should you be able to find a copy, but America has never seen any kind of Home Video release. When questioned about the possibility of a release over the years, former CEOs Micheal Eisner and Bob Iger have stated that we may still see Song of the South on DVD, with Iger clarifying [in THIS Deadline article] that we would never see it on Disney+ due to “out-dated cultural depictions” that are “inappropriate in today’s world”. I firmly believe that not releasing Song of the South is a mistake, and that hiding from the mistakes of the past in no substitute to learning from them. This is especially true when you consider that 1941’s Dumbo is still available on the service…Jim Crow and all.

The secondary selling point of Disney+ is its original content which includes The World According to Jeff Goldblum and The Mandalorian. In my opinion, The Mandalorian is one of the best pieces of Star Wars media we have received in recent years, and making it the flagship series of the subscription service is one of the best decisions Disney has ever made. Releasing episodes on a weekly basis means that if people want to keep up to date with the adventures of Baby Yoda, it can’t just be done via the 7-day free trial. That 7-days, by the way, is well below the 30-day free trial of other subscription sites and whilst I understand why they would do this, it seems a bit rude. The Mandalorian has now finished airing its first series, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they continue to keep this weekly routine for the rest of their shows. Long story short, unless you’re willing to pirate this new content, you will be required to have a Disney+ subscription in order to prevent falling behind. This is particularly true in regards to their Marvel shows which will not only tie into the larger MCU, but will be essential in understanding its future films. I hate this. It sickens me. The MCU has always been largely accessible, and much of the surrounding community finds a real sense of belonging in this fictional universe, as well as fellow fans. Hiding pivotal plot points behind a continual paywall is some pure capitalist garbage which will end up alienating a lot of people. I’m all for cross media story-telling, Star Wars has been doing it for years, but that media has to be easily accessible. If you need to buy a Star Wars book, comic or audio-story it’s a one-off payment and adds to the lore of the universe instead of defining the main franchise plotline. Disney has made some good decisions with their subscription service but this decision is their worst.

At the end of the day, Disney+ is fine, but it really lacks in some areas. There is a good enough range of media available for the time being but it isn’t nearly self-sustainable enough and certainly isn’t anywhere near the level we were told to expect [To see just how incomplete their library is, check out THIS comprehensive list from What’s on Disney+]. A perfect version of this service is not just one that contains 100% of Disney’s un-edited content, but also one that is free. Art should be able to be viewed by anyone and it is this simple belief that would appear to be why many art galleries are free. If this is true of paintings and sculptures then surely it should also be true of film? Unfortunately, it isn’t quite this simple, owing to a number of things like copyright and trademark laws. Had Disney chosen only to Copyright their material it would have eventually entered the public domain but because they trademark everything, this will never happen. Regardless of this, Disney has enough money that they can afford to make the service free. Between ticket sales for their movies and parks as well as profits from merchandising, the House of Mouse could take some time off and still make a substantial income. An ideal system might be one where they release a movie to theatres, sell the DVD and then wait 5 years before uploading it to The New Vault. I can’t say that I recommend Disney+, but if if it’s to be shared by your family then it may be worth it.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Disney Minus

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…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer