Pixar’s next feature film, ‘Lightyear’ does feature a significant female character, Hawthorne, who is in a meaningful relationship with another woman, according to a source.
On March 9, LGBTQ employees and allies at Pixar Animation Studios sent a joint statement to Walt Disney Company leadership claiming that Disney executives had actively censored “overtly gay affection” in its feature films.
The allegation, made as part of a larger protest over the company’s lack of public response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, did not include which Pixar films had weathered the censorship, nor which specific creative decisions were cut or altered, reports ‘Variety’.
According to a source close to the production, ‘Lightyear’, starring Chris Evans as the putative real-life inspiration for the ‘Toy Story’ character Buzz Lightyear, does feature a significant female character, Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), who is in a meaningful relationship with another woman.
While the fact of that relationship was never in question at the studio, a kiss between the characters had been cut from the film. Following the uproar surrounding the Pixar employees’ statement and Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, however, the kiss was reinstated into the movie last week.
The decision marks a possible major turning point for LGBTQ representation not just in Pixar films, but in feature animation in general, which has remained steadfastly circumspect about depicting same-sex affection in any meaningful light.
To be sure, there are several examples of forthright LGBTQ representation in feature animation created for an adult audience, including in 1999’s ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,’ 2007’s ‘Persepolis’, 2016’s ‘Sausage Party’, and 2021’s ‘Flee’.
But in a G or PG rated animated movie, the pervasive approach has been to tell, not show and only barely at that. Arguably the most high-profile LGBTQ character in an animated studio feature to date, Katie (Abbi Jacobson), the teenage lead of ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines’, produced by Sony Pictures Animation and released by Netflix, is the exception that proves the rule: This explicit fact of Katie’s identity is only fully revealed in the final moments of the film when her mother makes a passing reference to her girlfriend.
In Pixar’s 27-year history, there have been just a small handful of unambiguous LGBTQ characters of any kind.
In 2020’s ‘Onward’, a one-eyed cop (Lena Waithe), who appears in a few scenes, mentions her girlfriend. In 2019’s ‘Toy Story 4’, two moms hug their child goodbye at kindergarten. And 2016’s ‘Finding Dory’ features a brief shot of what appears to be a lesbian couple, though the movie’s filmmakers were coy about defining them that way at the time.
The most overtly LGBTQ project in Pixara¿s canon is a 2020 short film, ‘Out’, about a gay man struggling with coming out to his parents, which the studio released on Disney Plus as part of its SparkShorts program.
But according to multiple former Pixar employees who spoke with Variety on the condition of anonymity, creatives within the studio have tried for years to incorporate LGBTQ identity into its storytelling in ways big and small, only to have those efforts constantly thwarted.
In Pixar’s 2021 release, ‘Luca’, two young sea monsters who appear human when on land, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), build a profound friendship with each other that many interpreted as a coming out allegory, The New York Times’ review of the film was headlined, “Calamari by Your Name”. The film’s director, Enrico Casarosa, even told The Wrap that he “talked about” the potential of Luca and Alberto’s friendship being romantic in nature. But he quickly added that “we didn’t talk about it as much” because the film focuses ‘on friendship’ and is ‘pre-romance'”.
“Some people seem to get mad that I’m not saying yes or no, but I feel like, well, this is a movie about being open to any difference,” Casarosa added.
According to two sources who spoke with Variety, however, the ‘Luca’ filmmakers also discussed whether the human girl who befriends Luca and Alberto, Giulia (Emma Berman), should be queer.
But the creative team appeared to be stymied by how to do it without also creating a girlfriend for the character.
“We very often came up against the question of, ‘How do we do this without giving them a love interest?’,” says one source who worked at the studio.
“That comes up very often at Pixar.”