TV & Movies

Disney Pixar’s Out and Why Its Representation Fell Short

Disney Pixar's Out film poster

The LGBTQIA+ community has been begging for more representation from big name studios like Disney and Pixar for years. Out, released on Disney+ on May 22, promised to give us that rep, with what they described as Disney’s first gay lead characters.

Despite the excitement surrounding the short film, it didn’t live up to the hype. What looked promising in the first few minutes quickly became nine minutes of, “What is going on?”

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed it. It was cute, funny, and heartwarming. But in terms of representation, even condensed into nine minutes, it could have done more without sacrificing its humor, its characters, or the story.

The Plot

Greg is in the middle of packing to move to the city with his partner, Manuel, when Greg’s parents drop by to help.

Greg isn’t out to his parents. He ushers Manuel out the back door and lets his parents inside, where Greg’s mom commences packing and his dad fires up the grill in the backyard. But then, Greg and his dog, Jim, magically switch bodies through Jim’s magical collar.

Greg, now trapped in Jim’s body, tries to keep a photo of himself and Manuel out of his parents’ reach while keeping the dog in his human body in check.

The nine minute short marks Pixar’s first film—short or otherwise—that features a queer main character. That also means making strides in mainstream media toward diversity in film. For people in the LGBTQIA+ community, this means seeing ourselves in film where once, the only way we could was through fan material.

But does Out do the best job it can when it comes to representing the LGBTQIA+ community in film?

Was the Representation All It Could Have Been?

Whether it’s books, film, or any other medium, representation for the LGBTQIA+ community has only really started to appear in the last ten years or so. I still remember being in high school and seeing almost no queer characters—and none in the main roles.

When I heard about Out, I thought, Finally, Disney’s going to give us what we want. So I made a PB&J sandwich and settled in on my couch to watch the short film over lunch.

It started with a mystical dog and cat jumping through a rainbow in the sky. The cat blew a magical purple bubble and let it float down toward Jim before the magic fused with her collar, saying, “Darling, just keep watching. Something will happen.”

And, well…something did happen, though I’m not totally sure what it was.

Greg and Jim switch bodies, and I guess Pixar figured we’d just overlook all the plot holes from this point on. Jim, in Greg’s body, runs around the house knocking things over and sniffing Greg’s dad’s butt (which, by the way, neither of his parents question). Meanwhile Greg in Jim’s body frantically tries to hide a photo of himself and Manuel, going to such lengths as peeing on the floor and biting Greg’s mom when she nearly discovers the photo.

Essentially, we see the entire film from a dog’s perspective. Greg doesn’t have a voice once his parents show up. At the point where we could have seen a real conversation, Pixar skipped the whole thing.

But there were a few parts that worked better than I expected or opened perspectives beyond the initial assumptions that come with the film.

At the beginning of the film, Greg says, “Just look them in the eyes, and say, ‘Mom, Dad…I’m—…This is my boyfriend, Manuel.’” Greg notably doesn’t say, “I’m gay.” The film leaves Greg’s identity open. 

He could be gay, bisexual, asexual, or any of many orientations and identities. While we perceive him as gay (partly based on how critics and media have described the film), there’s also that openness there for many people to see their identities and experiences in this character.

Also, while Greg and Manuel are moving to the city, Greg currently lives in a suburban town. That’s a departure from many films featuring LGBTQIA+ characters set in cities, where more people are open to other identities. Out shows that you can find queer people anywhere, in any setting or environment, and it’s not restricted to the ones we consider more accepting or acceptable.

The Feelings vs. the Presentation

My problem with the short is that we didn’t see any of the most important parts or Greg’s feelings as they unfolded. Even the coming out didn’t feel quite like the experience of many LGBTQ+ people, myself included. 

Most of us don’t get to decide to come out after we hear our mom secretly say how much she loves us and already knows we’re gay. While there’s no universal coming out experience, many of us struggle with what our parents will think or say, even if they love and accept us—sometimes, even if we know they’ll love and accept us before we say it.

Plus, as we watch the short, it doesn’t really feel like the plot centers around Greg as himself. Yes, that’s part of the point—his parents don’t see his whole identity, and he feels like he has to hide it—but for me, there was something missing when we departed from human Greg. It felt like the story centered everyone else’s feelings about Greg rather than Greg’s about his own situation. When he and Jim switched bodies, we lost a lot of the body language and visible emotion that we saw in the minute or so before that moment.

We already know that Pixar uses plenty of magical elements. I love magic, but here, it seemed like it created more holes than it filled. I mean, what kind of dad doesn’t question his son sniffing his butt?

In most stories, I feel like body switching is a cheap plot device. Every once in a while, you come across a film that does it well, but Out isn’t one of them. Instead, it’s used to give insight into perspectives that take the focus away from Greg and his feelings. The film spends a lot of time centering Greg’s mom’s feelings, where she talks about how hurt she is that Greg doesn’t tell them anything anymore.

But what about Manuel? Why does Manuel think it’s easy to come out? Have Greg and Manuel had this conversation before? Is Manuel out to his family? Do they have a support system outside of their families?

We could have had answers to some of these questions without making a big deal of it. Instead, Manuel is just kind of there, and he doesn’t participate in the process at any point. I would’ve liked to see even a glimpse into Manuel’s perspective. It felt like he was conveniently erased so Greg—or, rather, a voiceless Greg and his mom—could have the spotlight.

What Pixar Could’ve Done Better

Pixar could have stepped this film up in a million ways, and they didn’t. Am I thrilled to see a queer couple on screen from one of the biggest filmmakers out there? Of course.

What I’m not thrilled about is that they centered the group that already gets the most representation in the LGBTQ+ community—cisgender white men.

For starters, Greg’s boyfriend, Manuel, has maybe three lines in the whole nine minutes. Gay Black and brown men already get pushed aside or wrongly represented in so much mainstream media that the least Pixar could’ve done is give him a participatory role. The LGBTQIA+ community extends to people of many different races and cultures, and it felt like Pixar deliberately ignored that here.

Secondly, I can acknowledge that Pixar doing a coming out story of any kind is a huge deal. But as a mainstream film company, Pixar must also acknowledge that they set a standard with what they create. And what I saw of that standard was a story that says coming out is the biggest moment of a queer person’s life.

For some people it is. In fact, for a lot of queer people, it’s a significant moment, even if it’s not the most important ever. But what we need isn’t only coming out stories.

We need stories where characters—main characters, not the side ones that Disney has discreetly included in recent years—are just gay, bisexual, trans, asexual, and more. Think Steven Universe created by Rebecca Sugar and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power from Noelle Stevenson. There’s so much representation in those shows, and while I’m not yet finished with either of them, both acknowledge characters’ identities without making them the centerpiece of the show.

Should You Still Watch It?

Despite these critiques, I think Out is worth watching for people of all ages. The ending had me crying into my PB&J, after all.

While I don’t find Pixar’s magical elements necessary here, younger kids might overlook them more easily than I did. The same goes for Greg sniffing his dad’s butt (I’m still not over that).

The other great thing about the short is that both characters are at least in their 20s, though they look like they could be as old as mid-30s. A lot of people think that when you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community, you have your identity figured out when you’re young. 

For a lot of us, that’s not the case. I didn’t come out to my parents until my mid-20s, almost a year after my partner and I had moved in together. I appreciated that Pixar made these characters adults who are still accessible to children and teenagers. It shows that there’s no time limit on figuring out who you are and choosing to show your entire self to the people you love. It’s never too late to invite them in and let them see all of you, and you get to choose when to do that.

Despite its shortcomings, this is a step towards what I hope turns into full-length films about LGBTQIA+ people from Disney and Pixar.

Do I want a spinoff with Gaston and LeFou being boyfriends?

Do I want Elsa to be the lesbian she so obviously is?

Do I want to see more queer and trans BIPOC centered in film?

YES to all of this! 

I’d love to see an all LGBTQIA+ cast from Disney someday. If Pixar needs to take baby steps and first create a nine-minute film about a cis white gay man, I’ll take it. 

But I hope this isn’t the end. The LGBTQIA+ community desperately needs studios like Disney, Pixar, and other major film companies to do better and represent all of our identities and backgrounds.

Sarah Wood

Sarah began their career as a full-time freelance content marketing writer in 2019, but they’ve been writing stories since they could spell. Sarah wouldn’t be writing now if it weren’t for anime fanfiction. Now, they write about mental health, pets, Japanese language and culture, and LGBTQ+ topics. Their work has appeared in The Conversationalist, Ikigai Connections, and bluntly. Visit their website at sarahwoodwrites.com.

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Sarah Wood

Sarah began their career as a full-time freelance content marketing writer in 2019, but they’ve been writing stories since they could spell. Sarah wouldn’t be writing now if it weren’t for anime fanfiction. Now, they write about mental health, pets, Japanese language and culture, and LGBTQ+ topics. Their work has appeared in The Conversationalist, Ikigai Connections, and bluntly. Visit their website at sarahwoodwrites.com.

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