Disney “Woke War” Isn’t New, LGBTQ+ Characters Have Been Featured for Years

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Bob Iger Disney CEO on the right and LGBTQ image as a background

Credit: Inside the Magic

The Walt Disney Company seems to have been in the midst of a full-on culture war this past year as it has gone head-to-head with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the battle for the LGBTQ+ community. Last year, DeSantis tried to gain Disney’s support for his Parental Rights In Education bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. When Disney refused to lend their support, DeSantis all but waged war on the entertainment and theme park giant, one which is still ongoing with no clear end in sight.

In part due to this concern being brought front and center, especially as DeSantis shoots for a 2024 presidential campaign, it’s put a spotlight on the so-called “woke” culture war that many claimed Disney has been forcing. In 2022 Disney+ released Strange World which featured the first main queer character in a Disney or Pixar film, while Lightyear faced backlash for briefly featuring a same-sex couple earlier that year as well.

Same-sex couple in 'Lightyear'
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios

Despite claims that Disney has been pushing the LGBTQ+ agenda down audiences’ throats, or that they’ve been pushing wokeness into their media, the truth of the matter is that Disney is no stranger to LGBTQ+ topics, and it’s not a recent inclusion into any of their media. A recent TikTok has gone viral for showing a scene from the 2004 Disney movie Home on the Range. Home on the Range was a quiet Disney release that’s been pretty forgotten by younger audiences.

The movie stars the voices of Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, Jennifer Tilly, Cuba Gooding Jr., Randy Quaid, and Steve Buscemi. Home on the Range is an animated film featuring a cast of barnyard animals who work together to track down a rustler in order to save their farm from foreclosure. The film was met with mixed reviews upon its release as well as a disappointing box-office performance. However, one scene in the film is going viral for an “over-their-heads” type of joke that’s being shared on social media.

@rhysespieces1slay, Daddy

♬ original sound – Rhyse

As shown by the video, there’s a scene in the film that includes a drag joke. In this particular scene, a group of the animals have made their way into town for the first time and panic at the plethora of unusual sounds bombarding them from every direction. They try to take refuge in a saloon and interrupt a group of older women performing a musical revue. A chaotic chase ensues, with one of the women ending up thrown across the bar. She ends up being thrown into a bar patron as it’s revealed that she was wearing a wig. The patron asks, “Daddy?” while the performer responds, “Son?” both shocked at seeing the other. The scene is a “blink and you miss it” joke that certainly flew over the heads of children watching it, but for the adults in the room, it’s clearly a drag queen joke.

A scene from Disney's 'Home on the Range'
Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Although this is just one quick joke in a Disney movie, there have been several implications and instances of queerness throughout Disney’s history, including alleged allegories and other “confirmed” queer characters. However, another outright instance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in a Disney movie could be 1998’s Mulan. Although Mulan dons the persona of a male warrior out of necessity to protect her father, it still shows an instance of gender-bending in a Disney film. There have been discussions and arguments over the years about whether or not the film also features a bisexual character with General Shang, who seems to have an implied interest in the male portrayal of Ping even before he realizes Mulan is actually a girl.

BD Wong as Li Shang comforting Ping aka Mulan
Credit: Disney

There are several other instances and examples of clear queer subjects and “woke” ideologies to be found throughout Disney’s history, and it at least goes to show that Disney’s so-called “woke war” isn’t anything new despite having a newfound spotlight on it. Even during Disney’s renaissance period, films heavily featured messages about religious hypocrisy (Hunchback of Notre Dame), feminism and patriarchal societies (Aladdin), and racism (Pocahontas, Zootopia). Disney sharing progressive messages and ideals in their films has been around for decades, but the harsh lines drawn between the “left” and “right” politically leaning audiences have brought a laser-sharp focus on these messages in more recent releases.

One detrimental issue Disney faces is creating movies that appeal to audiences on both sides of the spectrum or running of the risk of facing backlash for being neutral. Despite the newfound criticism, Disney has included so-called woke messages for years as well as LGBTQ+ characters, even if only for a 10 second joke.

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