Director: Angus MacLane
Writers: Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter
Stars: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Taika Waititi
According to a source close to the production, Pixar’s upcoming feature film “Lightyear 2022” which stars Chris Evans as the supposed real-life inspiration for “Toy Story” character Buzz Lightyear, features a major female character, Hawthorne, who is in a meaningful relationship with another woman. While the fact of that relationship was never questioned in the studio, a kiss between the characters in the film was cut. However, following the uproar surrounding the statement by Pixar employees and Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the kiss was reinstated in the film last week.
The decision marks a potentially major turning point for LGBTQ representation not only in Pixar films, but in animated feature films in general, which have remained staunchly circumspect about portraying same-sex affection in significant ways.
To be sure, there are several examples of direct LGBTQ representation in animated films created for an adult audience, including 1999’s “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” 2007’s “Persepolis,” 2016’s “Sausage Party” and “Flee . ” But in an animated film rated G or PG, the dominant approach has been to tell, not show, and hardly that. Arguably the most high-profile LGBTQ character in an animated studio film to date, Katie (Abbi Jacobson), the teenage protagonist 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 fiancee.
In Pixar’s 27-year history, there have only been a small handful of unequivocal LGBTQ characters of any kind. In 2020’s “Onward,” a one-eyed cop (Lena Waithe), who appears in some scenes, mentions her girlfriend. In 2019’s “Toy Story 4,” two mothers hug their son goodbye in 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 openly LGBTQ project in Pixar’s canon is a 2020 short film, “Out,” about a gay man struggling to come out to his parents, which the studio released on Disney Plus as part of its SparkShorts program.
But according to several former Pixar employees who spoke to Variety on condition of anonymity, creatives within the studio have tried for years to incorporate LGBTQ identity into their storytelling in ways big and small, only for those efforts to be 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 deep friendship that many interpret as an allegory of coming out of the sea. closet: 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 as being romantic in nature. But he was quick to add that “we don’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.
However, according to two sources who spoke to Variety, the “Luca” filmmakers also discussed whether the human girl Luca and Alberto befriends, Giulia, should be queer. But the creative team seemed to be stuck on how to do it without also creating a girlfriend for the character. “Very often we find ourselves with the question of ‘How do we do this without giving them a love interest?'” says a source who worked at the studio. “That comes up very often at Pixar.”
It’s not clear why a studio that has infused multidimensional life into everything from plastic toys to the concepts of sadness and joy would be stumped on how to create an LGBTQ character without a love interest. But it also seems like Pixar has had a hard time incorporating queer representation even as part of the background. Multiple sources told Variety that efforts to include signifiers of LGBTQ identity in the set design of films set in specific American cities known for sizable LGBTQ populations, namely 2020’s “Soul” (in New York City) and 2015’s “Inside Out”—were shot down.
Pixar is only doing the opposite of the creators of The Lego Movie. And if Buzz can be brought back as a real, living human being (or at least a fictional, animated version of one, stick with me!), he should have room for endless meta-reimaginings. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino can be persuaded to make a bloodthirsty B-movie prequel based on the harrowing adventures of the Roundup Gang, or someone else can develop a Disney+ show based on the fictional, animated pig that inspired Hamm the piggy bank. talking. Maybe everything can work in reverse (again) and a toy version of Luke Skywalker could show up in Toy Story 5!
The only question here is how many Russian Buzzes dolls do we have to open before we find the real thing… On what level of the Toy Story metaverse do we find the real thing, and not just another copy of a copy of a copy? Do you think I’m making these things up? There are two versions of Zarg in the new trailer alone, for God’s sake, one robotic and one seemingly real. Do they play with the toy version when they’re done conquering planets for the day?
It’s all so puzzling, and it seems highly unlikely that Lightyear’s release this summer will do anything to clear up the mess. Adults, prepare for confusing but happy questions as the credits roll. But keep in mind at the same time that all these heady, self-reflective twists and turns won’t stop Junior from ordering a Buzz Lightyear next Christmas.