While Disney may not be perfect in numerous ways, they are very supportive of the LGBT community. Disney was one of the first corporations to extend health benefits to homolsexual couples, and they host regular gay pride events throughout Disney World each year. Their frank openness towards the gay community has lead to a large number of queer theorists examining the Disney canon for examples of characters that can be interpreted as thinly veiled gay or queer characters. Given the complexity and depth of many Disney icons from various films, it often is not too far of a stretch to consider these characters from an LGBT point of view.
The issue most theorists and LGBT theorists tend to take with Disney’s character building is their reinforcement of gay stereotypes. Disney films are often rife with overly camp, foppish men and near-butch-crewcut tomboys that pervade the Disney canon. Regardless, many of these vibrant and flamboyant characters are now established in many ways as gay icons, several of whom provide much needed role models to younger fans who may be in need of a positive cultural influence. As a celebration of diversity in a time where so much is uncertain for many, here are fifteen of the most widely known LGBT Disney characters.
Beauty and The Beast’s Cogsworth
A film well known for its colorful characters and unique story, Beauty and The Beast is beloved Disney classic. One character in particular stands out as distinctly off the mean in his portrayal though, namely the butler who has been transformed into a clock, Cogsworth. With his often camp delivery and some what effeminate animations, it isn’t too far of a stretch to suggest that Cogsworth & Lumiere are or were lovers at some point in time, though in fairness to Lumiere he was one of the most sexually fluid characters in the film. Top all this off by the fact that Cogsworth is voiced by openly gay actor David Ogden Stiers, and the case for Cogsworth being a hidden homosexual character in the film becomes a fairly natural assumption.
The Lion King’s Timon and Pumbaa
One of the prime examples in a Disney film of a gay couple who lived happily ever after, Timon and Pumbaa are easily two of the most popular Disney characters in the company’s history. Between their over-the-top flamboyance and their much needed comic relief, the two portray what is considered to be a happily married gay couple raising an adoptive child in the form of Simba. Add to that TImon being voice by openly gay actor Nathan Lane, and there is a very strong case for these two being a role model for a happy and healthy same sex relationship.
One of the most camp and foppish characters in all of the Disney canon, Ratcliffe makes Sacr from The Lion King look straight. Once again voiced by David Ogden Stiers, Ratcliffe is as openly gay as a Disney character gets, from his flamboyant clothes to his hand bag and miniature dog, Ratcliffe definitely represents the gay community within the film, though perhaps not as positively as most LGBT advocates would like.
When considered from the point of view of a young man struggling with his sexual identity, Pinocchio comes across as a gay or trans Everyman, desperate for his father’s approval and embarking on a personal quest that will transform him into the truest version of himself. If Pleasure Island is seen as a camp for gay conversion therapy with a great number of other confused juvenile delinquents, Pinocchio tries all sorts of typically masculine activities like drinking, gambling, and smoking, but only succeeds in making an ass of himself. Literally.. Finally reaching his epiphane about it being okay to be gay in the end, Pinocchio seeks the aid of his conscience Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy to guide him along his personal journey to transformation and self-acceptance.
The Lion King’s Scar
All the hallmarks of a coded queer character are present in this most evil of all Disney villains. The effeminate gestures, the well groomed differently colored mane, his position in the family as the black sheep/outcast all point towards Scar as a gay character who never overtly makes his sexuality clear in words. Even without a love interest in the film, it is abundantly clear where Scar’s sexuality lies throughout the film.
This one is a bit less obvious, as the skunk named Flower displays numerous queer overtones but never really acts in a definitively gay manner. However, the swooning over Bambi and blushing at every word the deer says to him, Flower clearly has a bit of mancrush on the movie’s titular character. By contrast though, Flower does run off with female skunk at the end of the film, though he wouldn’t be the first closeted gay person to marry a member of the opposite sex in order to hide who they are.
The Little Mermaid’s Ursula
Often said to be based on the well known and influential drag queen Divine, Ursula displays numerous bi-sexual tendencies throughout the film, apparently lusting after both Ariel and Eric. Between her drag queen characteristics and masculine haircut, Ursula’s portrayal in the movie clearly indicates that she swims both ways.
This character’s narrative is often seen as a transexual parable of sorts, with Mulan “trapped” in a woman’s body longing to be accepted as male. She expresses in any scenes that she cannot ever be the perfect wife or perfect daughter, and desires instead to go and be useful and live her life in some way that is atypical of traditional gender roles for women in her culture. It’s not a perfect trans-narrative, but it definitely serves to highlight the struggle and identity crisis faced by many in the transexual community.
While not a homosexual character per se (she’s only 14 in the film after all), Merida definitely brings powerful female independence and rejection of traditional gender roles to the forefront throughout the events of Brave. Merida was a prime example of Disney’s shifting away from princesses who see marriage as their only option to a happy and fulfilling future. The message of Brave is a timely message for all young persons regardless of how they identify.
An ironic bright spot in an otherwise bland historical Disney epic, Hades embodies the gay BFF that every woman needs in their life at some point. The portrayal of sipping pink martinis, overall effeminate behavior, flamboyant flaming hair, and the over-the-top temper tantrums are dead giveaways as to where Hades falls on the sexual spectrum.
Living a sheltered, dare we say closeted, life that she eventually breaks free from in the absence of her parents, Elsa is pretty much a gay icon intended to help every person struggling with their sexual identity to openly embrace who they are.There are currently even fan campaigns to find Elsa a girlfriend in any sequel or follow up films, though Disney has remained somewhat mum on the subject.
By far one of the greatest characters ever brought to life on the silver screen, Robin Williams portrayal of the Genie as bombastic yet scheming sidekick of the film.True to his typical form, Williams brought a complexity and poignancy to to what could have been an otherwise running punchline of a character. The Genie also seems to have a penchant for appearing in drag, and has numerous jewelry and outfit changes throughout the film that present him as being very sexually fluid. Aladdin also seems to show more chemistry with the Genie than he does with Jasmine, though in the end he chooses the girl over the Genie and leaves the giant blue bottle rocket to wander the deserts of Arabia in search of another prince.
The Little Mermaid’s Prince Eric
The closet cartoon crush for many boys and girls, Eric seems reluctant in his pursuit of Ariel throughout the story, even somehow “clumsily” avoiding her numerous attempts to get a kiss from him to set her free from her curse and regain her voice. His taste in clothes with the deep v-necks and unique choice in capes also indicates that perhaps Eric is playing or the other team, despite Ariel’s best efforts to the contrary.
Lilo and Stitch’s Pleakley
Given his penchant for full drag at every opportunity while scouring Earth for Stitch with his partner Jumba. Yes, we mean that in romantic sense, too. The pair practically get married at one point and change their mind at the very last minute. While Pleakley is more of a coded trans-character in the movie, he and Jumba portray a happy gay couple who are utterly devoted to one another.
The Great Mouse Detective’s Ratigan
Okay, if you don’t know this is a coded gay character by the time the first musical number ends, you need a vision test and a mental health evaluation. If by the end of the movie you don’t recognize the romantic attraction Ratigan clearly harbors for Basil, you may be beyond help. While The Great Mouse Detective is a wonderful take on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, it has long been considered something of a Disney dud, while others consider it to be a cult classic. Regardless of your opinion of the film though, Ratigan, voiced by the incomparable Vincent Price, is a barely coded gay character who portrays the story’s flamboyantly gay villain. His general ensemble alone complete with extravagant and colorful cravat combined with the long cigarette holder are proof enough of where Ratigan’s sexuality lies, but feel free to contend that queer theorists are just seeing what they want to see.