By Timothy Rawles, July 2020 Issue.
Although different brands, Disney and Pixar are synonymous with each other, the only difference being Pixar tries to build its animated worlds with people and creatures as diverse as its storylines, while the ever-recalcitrant but supportive mother Disney seems happy not caving to LGBTQ pressure and instead camouflages the community with delicate innuendo and unneeded subterfuge in their animated films.
However, Pixar is pushing envelopes and took a baby step this year, allowing an LGBTQ presence through its characters. First with Specter, a LGBTQ police officer in Onward, then a giant leap with the nine-minute short Out which features not only the company’s first gay character but its first gay couple.
Steven Clay Hunter, who wrote and directed Out, says he lands somewhere “between the G and the Q” on the LGBTQ spectrum. He turned the community on its head with Out. The unexpected Disney+ release drew critical raves. Queer and straight people reached for their tissue boxes and keyboards to spread the news. Hunter had made something no one else in Disney history had ever accomplished; a magical, upfront, sensitive and inspiring LGBTQ story.
Pixar already seemed open to subverting the Disney paradigm when they approached Hunter.
“I was asked if I had a story idea, and I lied and said yes,” he tells Echo. “Then I raced home and wrote a really awful version of Out. The spine of the story was there, but we still took the better part of a year to get it right. Then we pitched that version to Pete Docter, our Chief Creative Officer and he loved it.”
Out follows the story of Greg, a closeted hirsute gay man who is about to move in with his boyfriend Manuel. On moving day, Greg’s parents make a surprise visit to help load up the truck and offer their support.
Greg suddenly has a crisis because he’s not ready to come out to them and hides a picture of himself and Manuel in a drawer. In a “Freaky Friday” magical moment, big-framed Greg switches bodies with his rambunctious little dog who in his playfulness threatens to accidently out him after stealing the photo and nearly exposing the secret to Greg’s mother.
His parents become increasingly concerned as they watch their bewitched adult son run around with his tongue hanging out getting into all sorts of trouble. Meanwhile Greg, as the dog, discovers the magic of the switch and desperately tries to reverse it. For those wondering, yes, there is a Disney-type ending.
Hunter says the film took about two years to make and he’s sure there were some discussions from the top brass initially, “but when people saw the kind of film we were making there was nothin’ but support for it, both within Pixar and down at Disney,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s a story about a family coming to know and love one another better. You can’t get more Disney than that!”
In the film’s opener we are introduced to Gigi, a magical cat voiced by San Francisco entertainer Matthew Martin. He says the film works because it’s not trying to change anyone’s mind, it’s a story about people and how perception isn’t always the reality.
“It is simple, yet profound,” says Martin. “Accessible and not preachy. The characters are relatable to everyone and truly believe the impact will be life-changing for those that see it. It will help and encourage gay sons and daughters coming out to their parents and help parents who are otherwise grappling with the subject.”
Hunter adds to that by saying humans, as a species, are storytellers. “Stories reflect what we go through in our lives. And like everybody else on the planet, LGBTQ people are hungry to see themselves reflected on screen and in the human story.”
Growing up in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, Hunter has always been appreciative of a great story, perhaps more so to the person writing it. From the twisting supernatural genius of Rod Serling to the adventurous and foretelling sci-fi machinations of Gene Roddenberry, Hunter was inspired by “storytellers who try to make the world a better place.”
He probably won’t admit it, but that is exactly what he did with Out. Not only did he break the child-proof seal of a major “family-friendly” studio, but he made something on-brand while still being completely inclusive. And yes, Rod Serling would be proud with Out’s twist at the end.
As groundbreaking as it is, there are some who will criticize Out for being too magical. In real life, LGBTQ people may not have its fairy-tale denouement. They may have to endure prejudice in its most toxic form.
“I’ve known lots of friends who came from those hostile environments,” Hunter explains. “It’s a terrible and scarring place. But I have to believe that seeing our lives reflected in stories can be healing both for those of us who survived that, and to those who struggle within it even today.”
As Gigi that cat, Martin may have only lent his voice to the character, but as far as the story goes they are the wise one who initiates the string of events which leads to the moral of the story. “God, I sure hope it helps anyone in that dilemma,” he said when I asked him about people who watch the film who are not in a good place.
In the end, whether it’s Pixar or Disney, they both made something that is profoundly impactful to the community and the world. As Kermit the Frog might say, they found a “rainbow connection.”
“My hope is that it will help to have a positive story out there for those kids to see themselves in and to show those around them that who they are is every bit as valid as every other human being,” Hunter says. “Maybe seeing a mother and father accept and love their son and his boyfriend for who they are will help those who struggle with understanding.”
“That would be my hope,” he adds.
Out could feasibly be made into an anthology series consisting of many stories from the LGBTQ community. From trans folks to bisexuals to non-binary men and women, Gigi the cat could help them all.
But Hunter says there is nothing like that on the table yet. “Ha, that would be fun, yeah. We’ve often wondered where Mags and Gigi are off to when they fly off on their rainbow at the end.”
I can guarantee it’s probably into the hearts of millions.
Disney+ is streaming Out in its SparkShorts section.