Disney has a long way to go, but there are still a few LGBTQ+ gems to be found on Disney+
The history of LGBTQ+ representation in film and on TV is a fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) one. Though it’s certainly no secret that Disney has struggled with any kind of explicitly gay representation in its media, the LGBTQ+ landscape isn’t as destitute as it once was. It’s still slim pickins, make no mistake, but we’re starting to see the entertainment giant realize that consumers don’t want the same things they wanted 20 years ago any more. The generation of kids that grew up hungrily consuming every single Disney Channel Original that came our way has grown up and, let’s be frank, a good number of us are gay!
While there’s still not enough of a catalogue to choose from for everything on this list to be solely focused on LGBTQ characters, here are our favorite LGBTQ+ friendly films and shows on Disney+
Jungle Cruise was so, so, so close to almost having a character say the words "I’m gay" on screen. While the film did ultimately come short of saying those words, and the scene that features them is easy to cut for international markets that won’t allow such things, it’s hard to deny the importance of Jack Whitehall’s McGregor Houghton. Brother to Lily (Emily Blunt), McGregor provides a good amount of comic relief and heart to a film that’s already bursting with both of those things. His "coming out" scene with Frank (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) doesn’t just serve to make us empathize further with his sister. Instead, it helps give him a key character point that makes him more than just "Lily’s brother."
Sure, we might have roasted Disney a tiny bit in our review for once again patting themselves on the back for their "first" out gay character (for the seventh time) and not even having the decency to do anything beyond and implicit gay description. Still, Cruella’s an all out banger with a fun queer character (and played by the lovely John McCrea), good dogs, and some fashion that may literally be worth dying for.
Praising anything featuring Cruella De Vil feels a little weird — especially given that she’s one of the most loathed characters in Disney canon — but trust me on this: the retelling of this monster is worth your while. At the very least, it’s fun looking at all the pretty set pieces and costumes while Emma Stone and Emma Thompson try to out act one another. At its best, it retcons the 101 Dalmatians story in a way that will leave you craving more in this complicated new universe.
The princess diaries 2: royal engagement
Here’s the deal: The Princess Diaries 2: The Royal Engagement came out back in 2004. Disney still struggles with gay couples in 2021, so you know there’s no way that there was an LGBTQ+ on-screen relationship in any of the Princess Diaries movies. So, why is it on this list? A couple reasons: First, not to stereotype, but this bisexual writer has a very hearty appreciation for these films. Second, it’s important to represent stories from different timeframes so we can see where we’ve been and where we hope to go. And, finally, we do get a (slim) scene where there’s at least an acknowledgement of a gay couple in the film.
While Mia (Anne Hathaway) and her best friend Lily (Heather Matarazzo) work with the Queen (literal queen Julie Andrews) and bodyguard Joe (Hector Elizondo) to find a potential suitor, Mia notes that the harp-playing Prince Antoine is a cutie. Joe’s "his boyfriend thinks he’s handsome also," receives a hearty "right on!" from both Mia and Lily.
A throwaway scene? Sure. But throwaway scenes meant a lot to young queer folk when they were all we had.
High school musical: the musical: the series
It’s been over a decade since High School Musical was filmed at East High, so the drama department decides they want to revisit that moment in time, this time with a theatrical production called High School Musical: The Musical. This is a brand new cast of kids putting a new spin on your favorite characters from the original. It’s jam-packed with some of your favorite songs from High School Musical, along with some new jams to groove out to. It’s a fun, upbeat, musical series full of teenage drama on and off the stage.
Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) is the fabulous, flamboyant, gay choreographer at East High School. While this character is fun and entertaining to watch, some might argue that this is a fairly cliche interpretation of what gay men are actually like.
Onward is a complicated film to write about in the context of this list. While excuses can be made for The Princess Diaries — or even The Lodge — because it happened years ago, we should be past the point where we’re tiptoeing around any of the letters in LGBTQ+. That said, this wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Pixar’s first confirmed character in a same sex relationship.
Which character is it? Well, it’s the barely-there Officer Specter (voiced by Lena Waithe). The officer notes at one point that her girlfriend’s daughter has her pulling her hair out. That’s the big payoff.
That obvious bitterness aside, Onward is a lovely, simple, inoffensive film. Probably plan on some tissues since it’s Pixar, but you won’t regret checking this one out.
Andi Mack is just about to hit her teen years and her urge to rebel and embody the angsty teen is stronger than ever. Along with her best friends Buffy and Cyrus, this fearsome threesome is ready to terrorize their parents and their school. However, Andi’s big sister Bex is back in town and she’s here to stay. When Bex was young, she was the poster child for rebellion, but now that she’s older, she’s started taking on a much more responsible outlook on life. Bex puts a serious damper on Andi and her friends‘ fun which takes a toll on her first year as a teenager.
Cyrus Goodman, one of Andi’s best friends, made history as the first Disney character to ever say the words "I’m gay," out loud on television. Typically, if gay characters were represented at all, their sexual orientation was merely implied and not voiced. It took until 2017 for someone to utter those magic words, but better late than never Disney. We have high hopes that this will spark a trend and we’ll begin to see more and more LGBTQ+ characters represented in our favorite Disney content in the years to come.
Star wars resistance
Follow the pilot Kazuda "Kaz" Xiono and his adventures aboard the large aircraft refueling station Colossus. He’s been recruited by Poe Dameron to join the resistance and spy on the First Order and disguises himself as a mechanic on the Colossus. It’s tough for him to keep his cover and he finds himself mixed up with ace racers, marauding pirates, and the mysterious owner of the Colossus. His discoveries and comedic adventures bring him closer to what the First Order actually has in mind for the galaxy.
The makers of this animated series have confirmed that the show does contain a same-sex couple. They’re the first confirmed same-sex couple to appear on screen, though not the first queer couple to appear in the Star Wars franchise.
Amelia Emberwing is the Entertainment Editor and lead critic here at What to Watch. She survives on a steady IV of caffeine, rants, pixie dust and fangirling, and will probably sass you. You can find her on Rotten Tomatoes as an individually approved critic. She’s also a member of the Television Critics Association and GALECA.