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Queering the Future of Animated Films: When Will Pixar Join the Party?

Queering the Future of Animated Films: When Will Pixar Join the Party?

I recently re-watched “Wall-E,” my favorite Pixar movie, and
was struck as always by the simplicity of its premise and the great complexity
of the world it builds. The cockroach companion was still cute, the fat-baby
humans living aboard the spaceship Axiom still poignantly disturbing, and the
notion of a salvageable planet still uplifting. But I was met with a sad

It is appealing
to an older set, or anyone who appreciates old Hollywood really, to include
Wall-E’s obsession with love as inspired by the musical classic “Hello, Dolly!” Pixar, and many other
animated film studios, love to throw parents a referential bone every now and
then, and although “Wall-E” is chock
full of powerful emotional and political resonance, the repetition of the
musical cue forms a great deal of the film’s soul. I was heartened by the
song’s refrain, but by film’s end, when Wall-E and his robot love Eve lead the
way back to Earth, I noticed that the song’s old-fashioned white, heterosexism
(which made sense for its time) matched the film’s. Gendered robots falling in
love? A mission to revitalize and, presumably, repopulate the planet (with
almost no people of color in sight)? And a future seemingly devoid (as far as
we can see) of homosexuality? Of all Pixar films, “Wall-E” is about our future, about the way we relate to one another
and the way we use our planet; should it not also concern itself with the
diversity of human life?

In the past few
years, animated film studios have touched a cautious toe into the waters of
explicit or implicit homosexuality. Laika’s “ParaNorman,” a film about what it is like to be an outcast, found its dumb jock character,
Mitch, revealing that he has a boyfriend (much to the dismay of Norman’s older
sister). Dreamworks’ “How to Train Your
Dragon 2″ contains a reference to one character’s inability to get married,
or at least his lack of desire to marry a woman. Both instances have been
confirmed by their directors as intentionally funny, warm expressions of a
sexual orientation that differs from the prince-and-princess norm established
over the last century. And Disney, the originator of the classically
heterosexist fairy tale, broke new ground last year with Frozen, in which a snow-worn male shop keep waves to his family
consisting of an adult man and a slew of children. Gay? Seems like it.

All three films
were well received by critics who barely mentioned the queer moments, if they
noticed them at all. Right-wing conservative groups paid a bit more attention,
labeling the films and their directors as cogs of the gay agenda, implanting
notions of sexual difference and perversity in the impressionable minds of
their youthful audiences. Although Mitch’s homosexual reveal is blatant, how
much would it really mean to the youthful target audience? And “HTTYD2” and “Frozen”’s references are so subtle that they may require repeat
viewings to grasp. It is obvious that these moments are tender comic relief for
parents, babysitters, and other adolescent-to-adult viewers who will appreciate
(or not) the nonchalance and positivism of gay characters in the animated
world. So, while there has been backlash (never enough to reduce whopping box
office tallies), it seems to this viewer at least that some animated film
studios are overstepping “Wall-E” to
explore a future filled with varieties of human existence.

When will Pixar
join the party? Arguably the most successful animated film studio of all time,
if we don’t count papa bear Disney, Pixar is consistent and meticulous about
their products. With “Cars 2” marking
the only bottom-of-the-barrel thud since
their first film “Toy Story” hit
theaters way back in 1995, the John Lasseter-run company is a creative think
tank unafraid of rewrites, overhauls, and stories which perhaps resonate better with adults than with their
children. I would not argue that Pixar need find a way to shimmy a queer
character into its beautifully-crafted stories at the expense of well-rendered
narrative; looking ahead to the studio’s next few releases (“Inside Out,” about the inner workings of
a teenage girl’s brain, “The Good Dinosaur,” presumably about our prehistoric friends, and “Finding Dory,” a sequel to the wildly popular “Finding Nemo” with Ellen’s forgetful blue fish at the forefront), it
seems doubtful that we could see any hints of homosexuality dropped. One
wonders why this most innovative of studios has not found the space for
differing sexual orientations amidst its colorful casts of characters. Too
risky financially? This is clearly not a problem. Too difficult or improbable
to include in a children’s animated film? Other studios have found subtle,
beautiful ways.

I love animated
films, and therefore I love Pixar, and Laika, and Dreamworks, and Disney. I am
looking forward to Laika’s next feature “The
Boxtrolls,” which once again let the rainbow flag fly in its first trailer, intoning,
“Sometimes there’s a mother. Sometimes there’s a father. Sometimes there’s a
father…and a father.” I am fascinated by the dawning of a queer trend in kid’s
entertainment, one that seems to be growing organically from directors and
studios interested in breaking boundaries. One Million Moms and the American
Family Association cannot keep these films from attracting and entertaining
huge swaths of the general public, and the nature of their gay moments leaves
room for families to decide what they’d like their children to understand. In
essence, the effort to queer animated films is a subtle, joyful, and inclusive
one, a movement not toward “turning” children gay but toward providing safe,
loving communities for children who are realizing that they are gay.

I cannot fault “Wall-E” for much, and it seems silly to
be too upset with Pixar for not innovating the LGBT-inclusive animated film. They
are simply windows onto an opportunity not spent. I only hope that the humans
aboard the Axiom, whether we see them or not, would be free to build happy
families and relationships of all kinds upon returning to Earth. And I think we
can all hope that in the future, when queerness is itself a subtle, human
quality, we get a gay prince charming, a protagonist to call our own.

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