Strange World is Disney’s first animated film with a gay lead. Why is it buried?

Disney

Disney

Disney has two films with queer characters in theaters right now — but it would be hard to name both. in the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Michaela Coel plays a warrior with a partner, a relationship most vaguely hinted at toward the end of the film when the two call each other “love.” This ruse toward sexual diversity is par for the course in Disney movies these days: sprinkle in a little queerness for folks at home, but not too much so that it can easily be edited out for release abroad. (In any case, fanatics are unhappy.)

Much less natural is the other Disney film with a queer hero set this weekend. strange world not only features a queer teen lead voiced by IRL queer comedy icon Jaboukie Young-White, but this queer teen is also multiracial. Between explicit queerness and the interracial family at its center, strange world is shockingly progressive – well, as far as Hollywood family films go. Especially Disney ones.

still strange world landed with neither a bang nor a whimper. Instead, the world’s largest studio has released a new feature film with little fanfare. There is none strange world Toys at McDonald’s right now. YouTube doesn’t bombard us with trailers. The reviews dropped two days before the film’s release and sparked no conversation. And even Fox News has barely looked at it strange world‘s discourseable casting.

It is easy to speculate as to why strange world was basically thrown into theaters. The disheartening explanation might be that Disney has avoided any major publicity for its more homogenous films for fear of excitement from all rights issues. All press is good press, unless it’s about a cartoon in which two people of the same sex hold hands. Then the bad babble can become both toxic to society and toxic to the box office. (light year, I’m looking at you.)

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That the film focuses on an interracial couple (father Searcher, voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal, and mother Meridian, voiced by Gabrielle Union) and their queer son Ethan (Young-White) should feel less exciting than it is; By real world standards, this could be a normal American family. But capitalism is not the real world, just an injury to the brains of society influenced by the short-sighted end of the socio-political spectrum. Why under the Hollywood system strange world is considered to be spectacularly diverse. Critics who want to perpetuate the outdated status quo of white, cisgender heteronormativity cannot help but notice any semblance of diversity. So it’s easier for Disney to shy away from it strange world‘s makeup than show on it. I gotta love the influence investors have on the creative process!

But after watching the film, there seems to be a simpler explanation for Disney’s shyness strange world. simply put, strange world is the most boring movie Disney has come out in years.

For all the talk about what makes it exciting, the film itself is incredibly formulaic. strange world is set 25 years after Searcher’s revolutionary discovery of a new resource, Pando, on which the fictional world of Avalonia can rely. However, he only makes this discovery after going against the will of his discoverer father, Jaeger (Dennis Quaid). Searcher and Jaeger have been estranged ever since. This damaged father-son relationship comes to the fore when Searcher must travel to the center of the planet to help root out what has been depleting the Pando they need. When Searcher meets Jaeger on this mission, they reunite and must learn to accept each other for who they are.

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Searcher has a parallel struggle with his own son, Ethan, who doesn’t want to be like his grandpa or father. Ethan wants to forge his own path and study the world’s numerous creatures and flora. But that conspiracy is downplayed in favor of Ethan’s efforts to mend Searcher’s relationship with his father — while saving the world.

In the film, Ethan is already accepted and loved for who he is, in a way that we are forced to consider remarkable: Ethan likes one of his (male) friends, and his friend likes him back. An early scene shows Ethan nervous as his crush flirts with him; Searcher shows up trying to be a wingman for his son. Everyone is cheering for Ethan and this nice young guy to get together, including his otherwise stubborn grandfather. strange worldhas more legitimate issues to contend with than Ethan’s sexuality. Which is wonderful, even if it should warrant a big “Well, duh.”

But the very mundane problems of not-in-the-mood fathers and sons steal the film’s spotlight to its detriment. This is a movie with quite an epic scope to play with. While Ethan tells his father that he doesn’t want to harvest Pando when he grows up, he doesn’t just walk away and slam the door to his room. He jumps off their spaceship and sails into the unknown on the back of a school of alien fish creatures. He befriends a life-size bacterium that saves Ethan from being consumed by sentient tentacles. Ethan and his father settle their differences while staring into a giant eyeball. The focus is not on the eyeball or the tentacles or the fish, but on the sedate “You don’t understand me, papa!” theater. This is a film that wants us to invest more in Searcher and Jaeger’s relationship than in a delightfully designed “walking landmass” creature.

“Lightyear” is Disney milking “Toy Story” for every last drop

Perhaps that’s another conscious decision meant to shield the film from conservative criticism. It plays with a strong ecological message towards the end, with a late reveal raising questions about the ethical consumption of natural resources. The world of strange world is vibrant, vibrant, lush, and huge, but the film’s seemingly well-intentioned people hardly notice. It’s ironic that the film similarly ignores its gorgeously animated environments; Climate change deniers will surely appreciate how disinterested the script is in delving into the film’s landscapes, opting instead for constant jokes and explanatory dialogue. Talk less about saving the planet and talk more about how awesome dads are!

But that’s giving Disney too much credit here. strange world was never destined to be a hot topic with anti-gay, racist, fossil fuel-loving pundits. That would require everyone watching the film to feel anything at all – anything strange world is unable to do so.

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