By preaching acceptance and questioning gender, the company’s kids films offer a queer-studies crash course.
Indeed… The article goes into quite a bit of detail.
The culture warriors have decided: Disney’s Frozen is queer. Elsa hiding her ice-powers could be read as a metaphor for the closet, the Oscar-winning “Let it Go” plays like a coming-out anthem, and a character in the film evokes the question of whether homosexuality is a choice by inquiring of Elsa’s powers, “born with it or cursed?” Some liberals have praised the film for its subtext; some conservatives have denounced it. But the most remarkable thing about queer readings of the film may be how unremarkable they really are. Through both its corporate practices and the content of its films, Disney for decades has implemented the so-called “gay agenda”—which is to say, helping make the world a more accepting place.
queer kids could identify with Disney protagonists, who are usually outcasts set apart from society by some innate desire (usually indicated by an “I want” song that details whatever dream that particular character is pining to attain). Ariel (The Little Mermaid) wanted to be part of another world, the townspeople think Belle (Beauty and the Beast) is “a funny girl … different from the rest of us” and Pocahontas (Pocahontas) does not want to be steady as the beating drum. This marks the Disney protagonist as odd, unusual, queer. Even classic Disney films featured these archetypes. Initially mocked by his peers, Dumbo (Dumbo) “comes out” and waves his freak flag after hallucinating pink elephants and learning to fly. Pinocchio (Pinocchio) reflects queer anxiety since he doesn’t know how to act like “a real boy,” and he thinks performing masculinity through smoking, cursing, and misbehaving will earn his father’s love. Then there’s the fact that Disney protagonists often reject traditional marriage partners. Ariel wants to marry a human against her father’s wishes, Belle rejects Gaston’s proposal in front of the whole town, Jasmine refuses to marry the sultan’s suitors, Pocahontas refuses to marry a tribal warrior, and Mulan rejects conventional matchmaking. In this way, even though Disney films usually offer a traditional happy ending with a heterosexual marriage, the journey always involves rejecting parental and societal expectations, and exercising a “freedom to marry whomever you love” spirit that is endemic to gay rights. Indeed, many Disney romances are examples of “impossible desire,” a trope that is crucial to the queer experience, as gender-studies theorist Heather Love argued in Feeling Backward. It was impossible for Ariel to be with Eric unless she became human, or for Belle to be with the Beast unless he became human, or for Aladdin to be with Jasmine unless he became a prince, or for Pocahontas to be with John Smith unless she left her people.
But wait – there’s also gender-bending and manipulation of men!
In the seminal Gender Trouble, Judith Butler pointed out how gender was in part performance-based, a fact that Disney has often depicted with cross-dressing and gender subversion. The company’s animators cite the drag performer Divine as the inspiration for Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Just as Divine was cast in Pink Flamingos because “society saw [drag characters] as perverts so they decided to revel in their status,” so too Ursula is marked a pervert by introducing sex to a children’s animated film. She encourages Ariel to use her body to lure the prince, and her magic not only gives the mermaid legs but also (presumably) a sexual organ, as Ariel emerges from the sea completely naked and must be covered up. In another instance of gender bending, the Genie in Aladdin shapeshifts into many characters, including female ones, and even dons feminine clothes and underwear at different points in the film. Indeed, Aladdin’s romance with Jasmine is much less developed than his friendship with the genie, and his decision to free the genie provides the movie’s poignant climax. Robin Williams’s character even acknowledges the queer undercurrent: “I’m getting kinda fond of you kid … not that I want to pick out curtains or anything.” Another obvious example: Mulan, where the protagonist disguises herself as a male soldier. When the soldiers later dress themselves as courtesans so they can sneak into the palace, the film completes its theme of gender as performance, with women pretending to be men and men pretending to be women. Mulan’s “I Want” song also plays like an anthem for kids born into the wrong gendered body—“When will my reflection show who I am inside?”—and intriguingly, the film insinuates that her male captain fell in love with her while she was masquerading as a man.
Thus, Disney films have been both traditional and subversive, serving wholesome princess stories to a largely hetero-normative global audience while also subtly appealing to queer children. You don’t need to be up on your queer theory or buy into the “It Gets Better” campaign to understand why any of this matters. Through conventional happy endings for outcasts and oddballs, Disney films let every child know that it’s ok to be different.
The best subversion is carried out right under people’s noses; most people are idiots, and thus fail to recognize it for what it is, and the few who do can be easily marginalized as kill-joy paranoid quacks.