The Walt Disney company’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community is, well, complicated. Afterdecades of queer coding its villains, Disney announced its first openly queer character in their 2017 remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” That announcement concering Le Fou, a villainous character whose named translates to “the fool,” didn’t sit well with some of the queer community. Since then, there has been discussion around the sexuality of Elsa from “Frozen,”a possible lesbian couple in “Finding Dory,”a same-sex kiss between two extras in “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker”and so on.
So, it made sense to be skeptical when Pixar announced the inclusion of an openly queer character in their latest release, “Onward.”
The film tells the story of two brothers on a quest to resurrect their father. On this journey, the brothers get pulled over by a policewoman who comments to a separate car, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” This scene is a fleeting one, said by a minor character that only shows up in that scene, but she is sure to make an impact on viewers, like it did to reporter Sam Adams, for Slate.com.
“That line isn’t the point of the scene,” Adams wrote. “In fact, it goes by so fast you could barely notice it. But that’s why it works so well. The film doesn’t pause to let it sink in or isolate the moment with a cut for emphasis.”
As a bisexual woman, I find this report to be something of a breath of fresh air. Too many times in film, especially Disney’s often flaccid attempts at being woke, a scene involving queer characters is stopped and regarded as strange or exciting. Not only does this feel like a vaguely-fetishistic lens, but it is moreso performative. Especially when the scene involves characters who have made little or no impact on the story, it feels like inclusion for the sake of appearing progressive rather than making steps to actually be progressive. There are plenty of stories of outrage about this kind of thing happening, but it seems Pixar learned from Disney’s mistakes.
When I saw the news about the lesbian cop, at a time where the relationship between cops and the LBGTQ+ community can be strenuous at best, I was more than a little peeved and I wasn’t the only one. A group called Gay Shame emailed The Guardian and according to an article by Sam Levin, “Police exist to kill and torture black and brown people. If you are (celebrating) cops, you are celebrating white supremacy, there is no way around it. A Pride cop car is like a rainbow confederate flag.”
While I typically agree with statements like these, I can’t help but want to give Pixar a break on this one. Not only did they not make a big deal of one of their minor characters being queer, but their fantasy world is likely not inundated with the same racial unrest and complicated history as our world. I haven’t exactly seen any controversy about the film making any racial parallels like those in Disney’s “Zootopia.”
Of course, I have not yet had the time to see the film, nor was I planning to see it. Upon seeing the first trailer, I was largely unimpressed by the dialogue and plot. My general lack of interest became actively refusing to see the film due to my skepticism about the lesbian officer. Now that the reviews come in and it seems they’ve decided not to treat the queer community like pawns or fools, I might actually go and see it one of these days.
It’s nice to see a big company realizing that treating queer people like fetishes or PR stunts won’t get gay butts in movie seats. Treating them like living, breathing parts of a story, even if briefly so, will do that just fine.