Since The Walt Disney Company was founded in 1923, the country has changed drastically. The company has been around to witness events like the start and end of World War II, the beginnings of America’s civil rights movement, the end of segregation, and the federal legalization of gay marriage. Through all that change, the brand has adjusted its content and participated in society’s embracing of new eras, and it’s time for the next: Real, honest portrayals of LGBTQIA+ characters and stories.
Though it’s certainly tried to reflect the queer community in media, many of the characters Disney has depicted in the last few years are microscopic, half-hearted attempts at true representation. Getting this company to fully embrace queerness is like getting Nemo to not touch the butt of the boat. And while some may argue Disney has to start small and work their way up to true representation, these queer appearances have mostly remained as small as they started. It’s only recently that Disney’s queer representation has gained proper footing, though, which means that the next era of the company’s family friendly content is finally going to start including LGBTQIA+ families, too.
Here are a few examples of the representation over the years, along with Disney’s most recent releases which prove that things are finally changing.
When Anna (Kristen Bell) visits a shop to get warmer clothes, we’re introduced to the shop owner’s family for a literal second as they enjoy the warmth of a sauna. In the quick glance, there are four children and one shirtless man, but there is no mention by creators or Disney if this man is his husband, brother, uncle, or what.
2014: ‘Good Luck Charlie’
In season 4, episode 19, Disney aired the first ever episode to showcase a lesbian couple when they came to pick up a friend at Charlie’s house. They barely got any screen time, and the series ended just a week later so we never got to see them again.
2016: ‘Finding Dory’
In the background of one of the shots, there is a possible lesbian couple with a toddler at The Marine Life Institute. Creators refused to state whether they were a couple or not.
2017: ‘Beauty and the Beast’
LeFou (Josh Gad) supposedly has a crush on Gaston (Luke Evans) in the live-action adaptation of the animated classic, but there are just a few lines that allude to this, it’s never stated outright. In the end, LeFou ends up dancing with a handsome gentleman, on accident, again for a literal second.
2019: ‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’
Another promise of queerness, but all we get is, yet again, one brief kiss for a second in the background scene of a celebration. In the film, Commander Larma D’acy (Amanda Lawrence) is seen kissing her partner.
No doubt the company’s biggest endorsement for LGBTQIA+ storytelling, Out is a short film that’s part of Pixar’s SparkShorts program. A story about coming out to your parents, this is the biggest bet Disney has taken to represent the queer community.
In episode 3 of the limited series, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his female counterpart, Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), have a conversation in which Sylvie asks if Loki had any previous romantic relationships. “Must’ve been a would-be princesses or perhaps, another prince,” she says. To which he replies, “a little bit of both.” After years and years of minor characters being hinted as being queer, this is the first big leap Disney has taken for a main character of a major franchise.
2021: ‘Jungle Cruise’
Lily’s (Emily Blunt) brother, McGreggor (Jack Whitehall) comes out to Frank (Dwayne Johnson) in a surprisingly blunt, yet still cryptic, moment where he reveals he never married because his interests lay “elsewhere.” This is the only time his sexuality is brought up, but it is a welcome portrayal of how hard society can be on openly gay men at the time.
The first openly gay superhero in the MCU, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is shown with his family, his husband, and child in the film a couple of times. This is the most screen time a queer couple has gotten in a Disney film, and we even get to see them be romantic for longer than a second!
Although Disney refuses to admit its Italian Pixar adventure is really an allegory for coming out of the closet and being okay with queerness making you different from everyone else, let’s admit it: This movie is queer as hell. Director Enrico Casaroa is on record saying they “talked about” making it a gay romance, but ultimately decided it was about a “pre-romance” friendship.
Yes, many of these moments were over-promised and under-delivered ideas of what “groundbreaking” LGBTQIA+ representation means, but together they lay a foundation that prepares the company for finally entering the era of 21st century entertainment, one that accurately depicts the LGBTQIA+ community in more substantial ways than a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment.
You can even see this evolution in the way that Disney handles its releases internationally. Many, if not all, of the moments mentioned above have been censored or edited out in regions that are known for having anti-LGBTQIA laws and regulations, like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. But most recently, Disney has held its ground by refusing to censor the moment in Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness that depicts a lesbian couple, and more recently also standing by Lightyear‘s inclusion of a lesbian kiss despite its ban in 14 nations because of it.
When you take a look at the way Disney’s approach has evolved, it’s clear that they’re dipping their toes into queer waters before ultimately making the plunge of releasing a story that’s all about queer love and identity. We already have Hearstopper star, Joe Locke, letting the world know he wants to play the first gay Disney prince, and they’d be foolish to not go in on that brilliance! Something tells us that Disney is already working on bringing a story with a queer main character that doesn’t shy away from the subject they’ve been avoiding for nearly a decade, and honestly? We’re so ready for it.