The news that the upcoming live action remake of Beauty and the Beast is set to feature Disney’s first explicitly gay character has rightly been praised as a small but important step for LGBT representation in family entertainment – despite the sadly all-too-predictable backlash from some quarters.
While Josh Gad’s LeFou is set to feature in the studio’s first “exclusively gay moment” on film, many of Disney’s most memorable creations are ‘coded’ gay characters, whose identities – for better or worse – were shaped by queer sensibilities.
As Disney prepares to embark on a new era in its representation of LGBT characters, here’s a look back at some of its history…
Ursula (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
The voluptuous sea-witch was modelled on drag queen Divine, perhaps fitting for a film based on a fairytale written by gay author Hans Christian Andersen, who saw it as a metaphor for his own love for a man beyond his reach.
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas, 1995)
There’s a long tradition of effete, effeminate villains in Hollywood and this carries over into animation (see also: Shere Khan in The Jungle Book and Scar in The Lion King) .There’s no saying for sure if these characters are gay but they do incorporate stereotypical gay mannerisms. If you’re in any doubt about Governor Ratcliffe, get a load of his hair!
Hades (Hercules, 1997)
Yes, the flame-haired demi-god is another villain who can be read as queer but he can also been seen as a riff on the stereotype of every girl’s gay best friend. He’s around to offer Megara relationship advice and if he could get us closer to Hercules, we’d be happy to have him in our life.
Gaston and LeFou (Beauty and the Beast, 1991)
LeFou’s admiration for Gaston could easily be read as romantic attachment, and the character’s homosexuality is set to be portrayed explicitly in this month’s upcoming live action remake starring Emma Watson and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens.
And while Gaston was presented as heterosexual in his singular pursuit of Belle, the character’s look and personality owed much to lyricist Howard Ashman’s personal preference gay ‘trade’ – a slang term for masculine-looking and straight-identifying men who engage in a bit of man-on-man action on the down low.
The director of the new Beauty and the Beast, Bill Condon, reveals the character’s surprising gay roots in our new issue, commenting: “That’s a gay joke, that’s a gay inside joke; that character, Gaston.”
Timon and Pumbaa (The Lion King, 1994)
Flamboyant and fun, the double act of meerkat and warthog step in to bring up the young Simba when he’s separated from the pride. Their finest moment is teaching him how to sing and dance in Hakuna Matata, a queer anthem about forgetting your worries. Hell, we’d like them to be our gay dads!
Oaken (Frozen, 2013)
In a brief scene, the friendly shopkeeper invites Anna and Kristoff to use his sauna and is seen waving at his family, another man and two children. But it’s unclear whether they’re his husband and kids – and blink and you really will miss it.
Aladdin (Aladdin, 1992)
OK he isn’t gay but he is smoking hot, zipping around the market place with his muscles popping out from behind his waistcoat. And don’t get us started on Tarzan…