Gay Disney Characters Explored in ‘Tinker Belles and Evil Queens’

Jess’s Team Pick

Editor’s note: I understand this topic deserves detailed analysis to be fully appreciated. Please share any additional insight you have on the Gay Disney Agenda in the comments!

Last Saturday night, as my lesbian posse and I were minding our own business debating whether to watch Troop Beverly Hills or The Little Mermaid (really Papi), I wondered aloud if Ursula was a big, flaming homo. My friend Shira leapt from the couch, ran into her room, threw this book at me and delightfully announced, “She’s a lesbian. Read this.”

“He can call me a flower if he wants to. I don’t mind.”  Flower, Bambi

In Tinker Belles and Evil Queens, queer theorist Sean Griffin walks you through the evolution of the Disney company, tracing back to how the Disney name became culturally synonymous with “family values” in the 1930s and ’40s, gay symbolism dating all the way back to Mickey Mouse and demonstrates the development of a new, more adult, image and market under Michael Eisner in the 1980s and the start of “Gay Days” at the Magic Kingdom in 1990.

“What do you want me to do? Dress in drag and do the hula?” Timon, The Lion King

While high-profile gay talent has been contributing to Disney classics over the years, including Elton John, who wrote the music to The Lion King, and Howard Ashman, who won Oscars for his lyrics to Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, there has yet to be any gay characters in any of the animated films. Explicitly gay, that is.  Just how I instinctively felt that Ursula was a lesbian (or at least drag queen inspired), turns out there are pages of hilarious conspiracy theories floating all around.

The Disney Pseudo-Gays:

+ Cruella De Vil, 101 Dalmations

Extravagant drag queen theatrics

+ Hugo, Hunchback of Notre Dame

“The city of lovers is glowing this evening. True, that’s because it’s on fire, but still there’s l’amour.”

+ Jafar, Aladdin

“Jafar, however, very much acts the role of a gay man’s gay villain, twisted by his desire for heterosexual power and his consequent self-enclosure in the closet. Advisor to the sultan, he is a Roy Cohn type with Leopold-and-Loeb overtones. He is counterpoised, moreover, to a healthier gay icon: the Genie, who, with Robin Williams’s voice, flames across the screen in a one-man cabaret show.

+ Ursula, The Little Mermaid

“At first glance, Ursula seems a woman; on closer inspection, however, the Sea Witch resembles a flamboyant, Divine-ly inspired drag queen. Her octopus-like lower half further renders her gender ambiguous: the first view of her tentacles emerging from the darkness is played up for shock value…”

+ Scar, The Lion King

+ Jumba & Pleakley, Lilo and Stitch

“You’re just jealous cause I’m pretty!”

+ Cogsworth & Lumiere, Beauty & the Beast

“Well, there’s the usual things: Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep…”

Final Thought:

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Jess is a pop culture junkie living in New York City. She enjoys endless debates about The L Word, Howard Stern, new techy gadgets, DVR, exploring the labyrinth of the Lesbian Internet, memoirs, working out, sushi, making lists, artsy things, anything Lady Gaga touches, traveling, puppies, and nyc in the fall. Find her on Twitter @jessxnyc or via email.

Jess has written 267 articles for us.

108 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    Top queer Disney according to my friends and me – Lady & the Tramp (butch/femme ftw – the Tramp is even called Butch) and Mulan (Mulan spends most of the film crossdressing, and the male love interest falls in love with her as ‘Ping’, not knowing her true identity).

    Plus the Evil Queen in Snow White has more than a bit of a thing for Snow White. Unhealthy mix-ups of jealousy and desire! Yay!

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    Cogsworth & Lumiere (beauty and the beast) were SO a couple, even as a child I remember being weirded out to see Lumiere with his girlfriend.

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    I’ve been witness to a pretty convincing debate on the queer nature of the relationship between Timon and Pumbaa. Considering they make up a pair of same-sex individuals that have been ostracized by their families and who live, eat, and sleep together in their own little paradise so the rest of the world can’t judge them, it’s a pretty compelling argument. Not to mention that they essentially function as Simba’s adoptive parents.

    I can’t watch the Lion King anymore without being struck by how freaking queer those two are.

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    OH, ditto on Ursula. Only a few years ago did I watch The Little Mermaid again and realized the sense of deja vu I had watching her sing Poor Unfortunate Souls was because it reminded me of a drag show! I do think this is a fun subject to discuss, but we should be careful not to take this too far from the theoretically funny to the serious side. I remember the uproar about Spongebob and the Teletubbies supposedly being some sort of evil gay corruption of our children. Those characters don’t even have genitalia, not to mention sponges are asexual. And, of course it goes without saying, “So what if they ARE gay?”

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    Mulan has long been idolized in the trans guy community online. Particularly this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5A_Rl8aQxII

    Look at me
    I will never pass for a perfect bride
    Or a perfect daughter
    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 fam’ly’s heart

    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
    When will my reflection show
    Who I am inside?
    When will my reflection show
    Who I am inside?

    WOAH.

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    Disney helped me develop a strong sense of queerdar, hidden beneath my mickey mouse ears. There’s at least one LGTBQ character in every movie, my favorites being Pocahontas’s gf Nacoma (she was way too jealous of John Smith) and the
    threesoming good fairies in Sleeping Beauty- Flora, Fauna and Merriweather.

    Sigh, but I’m still waiting on a loud and proud character to come out on the silver screen. That way I can get over my life-long crush on Belle.

    “No, it can’t be; I’ll just ignore… But then, she’s never looked at me that way before.”

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    Does anyone know “The Emperor’s New Groove”? This is the gayest Disney movie I’ve ever watched. The prince is a total diva, like the faggiest fairy-boy under the sun! I love this movie so much :)

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      That’s my favorite Disney movie of all time, hands down! Also, hello, did you see Kronk? He took dance lessons, he complains about his figure, he is a great cook/dinner host AND he is the apparent boytoy of an old rich lady?! Seriously, in the version in my head, he and the emporer totally fall in love in the end :).

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    YESSSS. I need to get this book ASAP.
    As for an out and proud queer character being in a Disney movie, a Disney animator said that “once they [Disney chiefs] find the right kind of story with that kind of concept, they will do it.” I don’t even know what that means (although it kind of reeks of “We’re waiting until people are more okay with queer people”), but still! There’s hope!
    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2011/03/04/lion-king-animator-says-only-a-matter-of-time-before-gay-families-appear-in-disney-films/

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      Ursula was in fact based on Divine- apparently the animators were having a lot of trouble coming up with a concept for their villain, and as a joke one artist sketched a picture of Divine, added tentacles, and asked, “Why don’t we just go with this?” And thus, Ursula was born!

      Also, I absolutely love this article, and I have to find this book! I’m a huge animation nerd, as well as a pop culture theory/ queer theory nerd, so this is right up my alley. Thanks!

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      I agree. As a little homo child, I sensed somewhere deep down that it was lame all these movies ended with the girl being swept off her feet by some dude. As if being with a guy somehow made their story complete. I mean, I disagree with that as a human being — I don’t think it’s healthy for little girls or healthy for the view of women in society — but also maybe it was my inner gayness.

      I never saw Mulan, but I thought Pocahontas was a bit bad-ass. Belle from Beauty & The Beast was cool because she was so individual and all the townspeople thought she was a weirdo. An animated Disney musical with a lesbian lead would be amazing, but I don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime!

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        Yeah, I agree that it’s not a good message for girls of any sexual orientation. Love and romance are nice bonuses but not essential for happiness, and it doesn’t make you less of a person that you haven’t found Prince or Princess Charming yet.

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      well, a dream is a wish your heart makes, so close your eyes and she’ll come strolling down the animated red(orange-yellow-green-blue-violet)carpet soon. Disney promised to make our dreams come true! Our lesbian princess is totally inevitable.

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      That reminds me of The Celluloid Closet, a documentary anyone who is interested in the representation of queers in movies should totally watch. (I think they even specifically mention Peter Lorre in there.)

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      Folks, let’s talk about Alice in Wonderland, where most characters in Wonderland are androgynous, gender-bending, or some flavor of queer. Mad-hatter, March Hare, Doormouse, Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, Tweedlede and Tweedledum, deep-voiced aggressive flowers, the Queen of Hearts, for goodness sakes. The plot line is basically dropping a straight femme into a queer alternate reality.

      Also, Peter Pan is traditionally played by a female actress in the stage version, so with a little imagination the Disney film fulfills all my boi fantasies.

      Also, I agree that the Hundred Acre Woods is a pretty gay forest. I remember asking my mother with serious concern whether Rabbit was a boy or a girl and having my mind blown when my mom answered that she didn’t know and it didn’t really matter anyway. Go Mom!

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      I constantly try to convince friends of the queerness of Bambi. I remember being so surprised when they came out of hibernation both Flower and Thumper had were boys (even though they state early on that Thumper is a boy…).

      Has anyone seen Tarzan? I remember thinking Tantor was female and Terk was male and, again, being surprise when they grew up to be the opposite. And then I decided Terk was gay. But the whole thing was still full of genderfuck animals.

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    TROOP BEVERLY HILLS! “Patches? We don’t need no stinking patches.”

    I can see where you’re going on some of them. But Scar from Lion King? How?

    That Aladdin parody made me realize I need to watch that movie again sometime.

    Hey, side note: Remember the boner in Little Mermaid and the word “sex” in Lion King? That shit was weird. Cartoonists have the maturity of 12-year-olds, apparently.

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    I’m just gonna point out that Cruella deVil was based off of Tallulah Bankhead, who was notorious/famous/infamously bisexual. A list of her liasons, as quoted in the wikipedia article for her:

    “Rumors about her sex life have lingered for years, and she was linked romantically with many notable female personalities of the day, including Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne, Laurette Taylor, Katharine Cornell and Alla Nazimova, as well as writer Mercedes de Acosta, the wealthy Betty Carstairs, and singer Billie Holiday.[16][17]”

    So basically if you were anyone who was anyone, you slept with the marvellous Tallulah.
    I’ve always read Cruella as an extreme High Femme. It’s the car, combined with that ‘performed’ femininity (the fur, cigarillo holder, heels, ect).

    And yeah, Disney’s really fond of sneaking the ghei into their movies. Timon and Pumba, Scar, Jafar, the Genie, Lumiere…. Rattigan. My god, Rattigan.

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    Pinocchio. PLEASURE ISLAND? Little boys? Please.

    Prince John from Robin Hood I feel sort of personifies old stereotypes of gay males as cowardly divas. Plus, his advisor Sir Hiss slept in the same room as he did!

    Governor Radcliffe from Pocahontas. Seriously, in the song Mine Mine Mine, the guy imagines being dressed in court in a sparkly gold outfit. A little Elton John-esque if you ask me. Also, his right hand man Wiggins? Totally his bitch.

    Speaking of Pocahontas, Thomas was just a little too clingy with John Smith, amirite? At the end of the film, he told Pocahontas that John Smith would die from his gunshot wound if he stayed (with her) in Virginia. Yet he’s got a better chance on a scurvy-ridden ship, sailing back to dirty England for several months? Sounds to me as though Thomas just wanted to get John away from his lady love!

    Dr. Facilier from Princess and the Frog. He and Lawrence have about as much sexual tension as Tiana and Naveen! Plus, he was the only male villain featured on the packaging of MAC’s Disney villains line (the others being Maleficent, the Queen from Snow White, and Cruella de Vil).

    Over the last 20 or so years, Disney heroes (and a few villains) have also been embodying these sort of Robert Mapplethorpe-esque images of hypermasculinity. Gaston, the Beast’s human form, John Smith, Kocoum, Hercules, Tarzan…and if you really need it driven home, take a look at David Kawena’s Disney Hero fanart:

    http://davidkawena.deviantart.com/gallery/89102

    Srsly!

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    Sebastian and Flounder from “The Little Mermaid”. That whole movie is filled with homogay and sexual innuendos:

    Everything’s better
    Down where it’s wetter

    And aside from the fact that Belle is only with a guy because she hasn’t met me yet, her dad is pretty gay.

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    I read a review on Up in which the author interpreted Kevin the rainbow-coloured bird as a butch lesbian. The idea was that this was a creature that was presumed to be male (Russel bestows the male name “Kevin” upon her), but is actually a mom. The villain of the film wants to capture and exploit her otherness (wasn’t she deemed a “monster”?) rather than allow her to live peacefully with her babies in the jungle, away from society’s prying eyes.

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    mulan made me gay. that was legit my favorite movie ever when i was a kid i replayed it over and over til it broke and refused to watch the sequel.

    also the i’ll make a man out of you song, i always sing the “raging fire” part as “raging boner”

    try it.

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    My partner has been wanting to create a comic of a lesbian version of Aladdin. I was puzzled when she first told me this, but then she pointed out to me that if Aladdin’s part in the song “A Whole New World” were to be replaced by a female voice, the song would suddenly be telling the story of Princess Jasmine understanding for the first time that she can become romantically and sexually involved with another woman (and LOVING it). And then I happened upon this version of the song (which I have loved listening to ever since): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LDp_Kpj7rM Oh, and there’s also a so-called “reggae disco rocker’s remix” of the same song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZ4etxpQgI8&feature=related

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      Delayed reply, but one of my friends and I totally did this for the talent show in elementary school. I was Aladdin. I just liked singing the boy’s part because it was more interesting than the melody. #lookingbackishouldhaveknown

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    i am so sure that this is a gay couple, i mean if you have seen lilo and stitch you would know pleakely and jumba are 100 percent gay. well at least pleakely. first of all his first name is Wendy, cries when he has to wear boy clothes, and buys flowers for jumba. my case is solved. disney has openly gay characters.

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