It seems that queer undertones and Disney have gone hand-in-hand for years with Disney having a long-standing love affair with the LGBT community. From being the first company to extend healthcare benefits to partners of homosexual employees to hosting gay pride events at Disney world, Disney and the majority of its films have become subject to queer theorists and readings around the world. With the arrival of “coded gays” and “foppish fashionable villains,” Disney have laid it out on a plate for queer readers and now with the latest announcement of a film solely based on two out-and-proud gay princes, it’s time to take a look at the not so fortunate ones who were so ungracefully banished to the cartoon closet.
1. Flower (Bambi, 1942)
From Flowers first scene we are introduced to the effeminate ladylike skunk who just about passes out as soon as he meets the toned hunk that is deer little Bambi. Not only is it love at first sight, it is a full on blush attack for black and white Flower, who then hopelessly announces to a misunderstood Bambi that “he can call me a flower if wants to. I don’t mind.” Of course he doesn’t. Not only does he cross the line ever-so-delicately between female and male, his name is FLOWER, which can suggest all kinds of connotations. Yes Flower gets married to a lady skunk at the end of the film, a marriage of convenience perhaps?
2. Ursula (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
Ursula is so full of gender stereotypes, she can just about personify anything. The sea witch that is ultimately just a giant squid can, like a true bisexual bombshell, go both ways. One, she is the quintessential campy drag queen based on the No. 1 queen herself: Divine. She resembles Divine so much so she even name drops her whilst singing. “What a lovely little bride. I’ll make my dear, I look divine. Things are working out according to my ultimate design…” On the other hand, we have the overtly male “butch” lesbian who represents the evil of homosexuality intent on turning the wholly innocent straight girl (Ariel) and infiltrating mankind with her dastardly lesbian tentacles. “So much for true love,” Ursula.
3. Genie (Aladdin, 1992)
Robin Williams portrayal of The Genie is by far one of the most recognised in all Disney films — so much that Williams himself won a golden globe for lending his voice. The Genie is not necessarily gay or even outwardly camp; however, we can most definitely count his interest in pop culture and his apparent need for cross dressing as a trait that could certainly put him in that box, dragging up so much he gives Rupaul a run for his money. The relationship between the Genie and Aladdin can also be read as the central relationship itself rather than that of Jasmine and Aladdin, with the Genie declaring, “I’m getting pretty fond of you, kid, not that I want to pick out curtains, or anything.” Yeah right.
4. Timon and Pumbaa (The Lion King, 1994)
The gay couple who even try their hand at parenting. Timon and Pumba deal with issues such as gay adoption and family values, doing so with a nice little song, Hakuna Matata. With Timon representing the camp “bottom” and Pumbaa most obviously the more masculine “top,” the couple fit themselves quite neatly into the gay stereotypes that we have become accustomed to over the years. With other examples such as Baloo and Bagheera in the Jungle Book, Disney showcases the “coded gays,” which have become a common image on our screens today. These types of characters represent flamboyant comic relief or a “married couple” type of partnership complete with petty arguments and a “more than just friends” whiff about them. This can also be seen in Beauty and the Beast with Cogsworth and the “flaming” Lumiere displaying a definite love affair of nagging “friendship” and ultimate passion with Cogsworth seductively implying, “Well, there’s the usual things: flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep…”
5. Scar (The Lion King, 1994)
Scar is effeminate, cutting, well-spoken and well-groomed. Again, as mentioned above, this does not necessarily mean he is homosexual; however, it does add to the gender stereotypes we see so often in Disney productions. Scar is another example of a “coded gay,” but this time as the evil villain rather than the glitzy and camp comic relief. It also doesn’t do him any favors that at the end of the film, he appears to have not had a relationship with any of the lionesses — alas, choosing not to do so. Also worth nothing is the voice of Jeremy Irons. As can be seen in many Disney films, the villain is often portrayed with a British and well-refined accent, adding to that mysterious and somewhat “foreign” lick of the tongue. In The Lion King, all the main characters are American with the exception of Rafiki, the African monkey, Zazu the asexual bird ,and Scar the wicked and villainous “foppish” Englishman — “Oh goody.”
6. Ratcliffe (Pocahontas, 1995)
In keeping with the theme of “coded gays,” Ratcliffe represents a villain not too dissimilar to Scar. Pocahontas plays the same card with Ratcliffe, voiced by gay actor David Ogden Stiers, who wasn’t actually out when he recorded this. With his camp haircut and lurid accent, Ratcliffe is the most blatant homosexual Disney has ever produced, proudly declaring, “My rivals back home, it’s not that I’m bitter, but think how they’ll squirm when they see how I glitter!”
7. Pinocchio (Pinocchio, 1940)
Pinocchio wants to be a “real boy” to gain his father’s love and not be the disappointment that he so subsequently is. So desperate he is to become a “real man,” Pinocchio embarks on a ‘gay rehabilitation’ course where he smokes, drinks, gambles, and essentially becomes a right ass (donkey that is) in order to fulfil this wish. With his sidekick and “gay conscience,” Jiminy Cricket, we watch with a tear in our eye as Pinocchio finally accepts himself for who he is with the help of his fairy godmother (drag mother) the blue fairy. “A boy who won’t be good might just as well be made of wood.” Excuse me?
8. Elsa (Frozen)
Elsa is portrayed as a young girl who was born different. So different that her parents told her to hide away from the world in fear of rejection. Remind you of anything? After her true nature is revealed, she is deplored as a freak and driven out of her own home constraint to isolation. Elsa is the first Disney princess that doesn’t require a love interest to survive. In fact, it’s so much so it becomes a total non-issue. It is only when they find out about her “icy powers” (lesbianism) that they want her dead. From her giant bedroom acting as the overbearing closet to the “conceal, don’t feel” words of wisdom brought on by her not-so-supporting parents, it becomes extremely likely we are not reading between the lines here and Elsa is in fact an enormous lover of the ladies. We even get a coming out song with “Let It Go” becoming Elsa’s desperate attempt at coming out of the closet, blasting, “Let it go, let it go. Turn away and slam the door. I don’t care what they’re going to say!” You go girl!
9. Hades (Hercules, 1997)
Hades is the Greek god of the underworld and the main antagonist to Disney’s version of the mighty and homoerotic Hercules. Also adding significance is that in Greek mythology, Hades is in fact married, which Disney just so happens to forget. While the Hades of Greek mythology is not that particularly evil, he is turned into a sadistic malevolent figure hellbent on taking over Olympus and putting Hercules to rest. Although technically a villain, Hades isn’t actually that scary due to his sassy comebacks and “gay best friend” attitude. In one particular scene, Hades is seen offering “advice” to his supposed minion Meg. “I can’t believe you’re getting all worked up over some ‘guy,'” he declares with a feisty and vivacious attitude. Hades is so full of sweltering tantrums that with his pink martini and sizzling persona, it’s hard to see why anyone would think otherwise.
10. Mulan (Mulan, 1998)
Mulan is one big gender-bending tale of confusion with transgender identity issues, homosexual innuendoes, and even the possibility of a same-sex relationship. We all know the story. Chinese woman impersonates man, Chinese woman is fawned over by other man, Chinese woman is outed as woman making it now possible for other man to act on his sordid homosexual fantasies. Mulan is special because it can be read in so many different ways most commonly as a movie with transgender elements. The idea of being “trapped” in one’s body has become a longing theme in the Disney canon, from the Beast’s unnatural animalistic body to Ariel’s longing wish to transform into something different. “Look at me I may never pass for the perfect bride, or a perfect daughter,” Mulan blasts in the painfully touching “Reflection”. “Can it be, I’m not meant to play this part? Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart.” The song continues like a heartfelt cry for help, ending with, “Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me? Why is my reflection someone I don’t know? Somehow I cannot hide? Who I am, though I’ve tried…” Although in the end, Mulan doesn’t play out like the perfect transgender narrative we all could’ve hoped for, it does however give a radical redefinition of how we can understand gender expression and identity.