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“Characters in love are surrounded by music, flowers, candles, magic, fire, balloons, fancy dresses, dim lights, dancing and elaborate dinners,” the researchers observed. “Fireflies, butterflies, sunsets, wind and the beauty and power of nature often provide the setting for-and a link to the naturalness of-hetero-romantic love.”
The hetero-romanticism, Jezebel reasoned, could help teach young viewers that “heterosexuality is normal, and homosexuality is abnormal, unusual and unexpected.” But as any grown-up fan of the Disney canon knows, these heterosexual love stories are often accompanied by an obvious undercurrent of homoeroticism. Disney has written its fair share of gay characters into its animated and live-action history—-it just has yet to write them out of the closet.
Gary Marsh, president of entertainment for the Disney Channel, hedged the gay question last year. “There have been characters on Disney Channel who I think people have thought were gay,” he said. “That’s for the audience to interpret. . . . What we’re about is telling a great story, a relevant story, a story that addresses the needs, concerns, dreams, and aspirations and hopes of much of our audience.”
To me, Marsh’s “gay is in the eye of the beholder” argument is an acknowledgment of Disney’s willingness to slip homosexual characters into its casts—-while leaving out any actual homosexuality. Defining gay characters by their mannerisms, wardrobes, and after-school interests instead of by the people that they love is extremely problematic, of course—-characters end up either being straight, or caricatures of gayness. Viewers are left searching for gay stereotypes—-and lack of overt heterosexuality—-to hone in on any could-be gays in the House of Mouse.
A slew of Disney characters have been plagued by rumors of closeted homosexuality over the years. Beauty and the Beast‘s fussy clock-man Cogsworth has been ridiculed for his notable disinterest in Belle and strange loyalty to the Beast. The tortured bromance between Toy Story‘s Woody and Buzz has inspired some raised eyebrows—and Brokeback Mountain comparisons. The close quarters shared by the Seven Dwarfs is a bit suspicious, no? And Aladdin villain Jafar gives off enough of a gay vibe to inspire the following Aladdin–Jaffar fantasy spoof:
Even characters who don’t immediately register on an adult viewer’s gaydar have often been recast to satisfy gay male fantasy:
And some characters, like the lisping manicurist manatee who dotes on Sally Field’s sea queen in The Little Mermaid III, appear to just be very stereotypically out—-if only direct-to-DVD.
And then, there is High School Musical.The gay rumors swirling around Disney’s live-action monster franchise have often centered on Ryan (Lucas Gabreel),a musical theater performer with a love of audacious hats, jazz hands, and—-other boys? Ryan is stuck with a pseudo-heterosexual plotline in the third film, when he is pressured into asking a girl to prom. Still, nobody is really buying it. (In the Disney stage adaptation of the popular films, it should be noted, Ryan is really, truly, out-of-the-closet gay).
But the controversy over the sexual orientation of the Ryan character only serves to obscure the homosexual undertones that weave throughout the entirity of High School Musical. Open your eyes, people: Every character in this movie is gay.
High School Musical is the story of basketball player Troy (Zac Efron) and academic decathelete Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens), who must overcome the social pressures of their peer groups to—-you guessed it—-“come out” as who they truly are. In this homosexual allegory, Troy and Gabriella don’t yearn to come out as homosexuals—-just as strangely natural musical theater performers. Yes, even the film’s stand-in for homosexuality is an after-school activity long associated with homosexuality.
Troy and Gabriella aren’t the only students with hidden interests just yearning to break free of societal pressures. One of Troy’s teammates, for example, eventually reveals himself as a cooking enthusiast with a specialty in crème brûlée. By the time the mini crème brûlée dishes get pulled out of the athletic bag, Disney is really piling on the homosexual coding.
Then, there are the students in the film who don’t claim to have a hidden other-life they desperately wish to share with the world. These students are the most oppressed of all. Although these characters castize Troy and Gabriella for attempting to follow their hearts—-they also appear to have some deep-seeded secrets of their own.
Take, oh, High School Musical‘s entire basketball team, for instance, which repeatedly mocks Troy for his interest in musical theater. In this scene, Troy chides himself to “get his head in the game” and refocus his energy on basketball, not singing and dancing.
Roll the tape:
As you can see, the same high school basketball team that ridicules Troy for singing and dancing does not actually play basketball at all. Rather, they appear to believe they are playing basketball while they are, in fact, singing and dancing. When Troy bursts out of the (musical theater) closet, these boys are so deeply repressed, so far back in the closet themselves, that they can’t realize they’ve been gay musical theater aficionados all along.
I’m not sure what sort of message Disney is trying to send with this one. The film encourages teens to “come out” as their true selves, and is is packed with clear homosexual undertones. However, it repeatedly attempts to deny actually showing the most difficult—-and obvious—-teen “coming out” scenario: coming out as gay.
Maybe Disney wants to recognize how difficult it can be to be a gay teenager, but in a format that its religious-conservative base can still stomach. Maybe Disney wants to recognize homosexuality while still discouraging homosexual behavior. Or Maybe Disney itself needs to do a little soul-searching. It’s possible that Disney doesn’t just realize how gay its movies can be.