For nearly nine decades, the Walt Disney Company has been one of the most prestigious film and animation studios. Its films reimagined fairy tales, legends, and literary stories. Fans, critics, and the general public look to Disney for leadership, examine the themes in its films, and praise or criticise the company for how it portrays the world.
Among the topics of interest is how LGBTQIA+ people and issues are portrayed. Following, and in some cases leading, the times, Disney has featured characters in its films who audiences perceived to be members of the queer community. Some of these depictions are more daring than others.
Few Disney characters are explicitly declared to be gay by the studio or its filmmakers, but viewers have noticed “gay coding,” or characters exhibiting characteristics associated with LGBTQIA+ people.
“Coded gay” is defined by Aud Bool on the blog Prezi as “when a gay stereotype, ‘gay behaviours,’ or ‘camp’ are used to imply that a character is homosexual while never explicitly stating that they are.” This is not always regarded as a positive practice. However, in some cases, viewers have accepted Disney characters as part of the fold or as a reflection of their own journey toward acceptance.
Here are some queer Disney characters you should know about!
- Merida – Brave
Merida, the heroine of Brave (2012), is Pixar’s first female lead. In the film, set in mediaeval Scotland, the princess refuses to participate in an arranged marriage that would unite her clan with another. Merida is an expert archer who competes – and wins – against potential suitors for her hand in marriage.
Brave, at its core, preaches acceptance. It’s about the compassion required to, as Merida and Elinor put it, “break tradition,” to change both society’s rules and one’s own prejudices. It’s about the terrible things that can happen when people don’t try to understand one another, especially family members. It’s also about having the courage to accept one’s own identity.
These themes resonate with a wide range of struggles, but perhaps most strongly these days with the queer community. It is not necessary for the film to reveal whether Merida is gay. It only had to make us ask!
- Jafar – Aladdin
The name “Jafar” means “rivulet” or “stream” in Arabic. In Aladdin (1992), Jafar, the sultan’s grand vizier, is stately and refined, with a pencil-thin Van Dyke beard, prehensile brows, and dark lids that hint at eye shadow. Unlike the other men in the film, he dresses in a robe rather than pants and wears a cape, and he prefers to use magic rather than get his hands dirty. For better or worse, many people associate this with his sexuality.
Andreas Deja, who is openly gay and has worked on Hercules, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, and Scar in The Lion King, was the lead animator on Jafar. Jafar was created as a gay man ‘to give him his theatrical quality, his elegance,’ according to Deja.
- Lefou – Beauty And The Beast
- When the live-action remake was released, Disney touted LeFou (played by Josh Gad) as their first gay character, even claiming that he had an “exclusively gay moment” in the film. Fans were disappointed when it was revealed that the gay moment was a flash of him dancing with another man in a group scene. His sexuality was supposed to be explored further in the Disney+ prequel series about him and Gaston, but that show has been cancelled indefinitely.
- Lesbian Parents – Toy Story 4
A brief scene in the fourth instalment of Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story franchise featured a young child and their two mothers. Although the moment was brief and provided little representation, it was enough to enrage one particularly vocal Christian fundamentalist group, which called their inclusion in the film “dangerous.”
- MacGregor in ‘Jungle Cruise’
Jungle Cruise was scheduled to be released in 2019 with MacGregor, played by Jack Whitehall, as the film’s “first major gay character,” but because of the pandemic, the film has been pushed back to 2021. Frank (Dwayne Johnson) toasts to MacGregor’s “interests elsewhere.” Possibly referring to where quality representation can be found, Frank tells MacGregor he never got married because his interests are “happily elsewhere.”
- Artie – Cruella
After LeFou in Beauty and the Beast and MacGregor in the long-delayed Jungle Cruise, Artie is one of several characters billed as the company’s “first major gay character.” Nonetheless, Disney was pleased that this flamboyant, fashion-obsessed villain was another “first” for them.
- Hawthorne – Lightyear
After it was revealed that Disney not only donated to legislators who supported anti-gay legislation, but also cut queer content from their films on multiple occasions, Pixar has decided to restore a scene in the brand-new film Lightyear in which a female character named Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba) kisses her female partner. The scene was originally omitted, but we now get to see it!
- Ursula – The Little Mermaid
The directors of Disney’s Moana, John Musker and Ron Clements, have revealed that everyone’s favourite sea-witch is based on the iconic drag queen, Divine. Divine died before she could portray Ursula herself. Documentarian Jeffery Schwarz stated that “he would have wanted to play the part himself,” leading many fans to believe that Ursula, who was so influenced, must have adopted similar characteristics.
- Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson – Zootopia
Fans didn’t realise this gay married couple in Zootopia existed until years after the film was released. We knew Judy Hopps had two noisy neighbours in her apartment, but it wasn’t until a fan pointed out that their names are Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson that we realised we’d overlooked this “ground breaking” couple! Their first names are derived from the order of quadrupedal mammals known as artiodactyls. “Bucky” is derived from the English word “buck,” which refers to male deer, whereas “Pronk” is derived from the English word “pronking,” which refers to the action of an antelope (especially a springbok) leaping into the air when excited.
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- Cogsworth and Lumiere – Beauty and the Beast
The castle’s staff, who have been transformed into household objects, are also featured in Beauty and the Beast (1991). Cogsworth, the fussy majordomo, was transformed into a clock, and Lumière, the valet, into a candlestick. The uproar over the “exclusively gay moment” in Beauty and the Beast’s live-action remake (2017)
- Li Shang – Mulan
Li shang, was one of the most famous Disney characters in the animated film, ‘Mulan’. His complex character is a mix of mundane and hollow love interests, which is seen when Li Shang doesn’t fall for Mulan after she reveals herself to be a woman but he’s drawn to Mulan while she is still in disguise as Ping, a male soldier. “Mulan” dared to be different with Li Shang. What really made his character stand out, though, was that he was clearly bisexual. it may not be overtly stated, but his relationship with Mulan strongly suggests he is.
Here’s our list of top Disney characters who audiences perceive to be members of the queer community.