At a time when full-fledged series like Steven Universe, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts have all carved out bold new spaces for queer representation in animation, Pixar’s new short feels incredibly staid despite (or because of) the fact it’s Disney’s first attempt at telling a story that centres on a gay couple.
Premiering as a standalone short on Disney+ today—and written and directed by Steven Clay Hunter—Out revolves around Greg, a queer man living a relatively happy life with his partner Manuel and their dog Jim as they plan to move into a new house that’s considerably far away from Greg’s family. Though Greg and Manuel have obviously been together for some time and love each other deeply, Greg’s yet to come out to his family, something you can see hurts Manuel deeply.
The Disney of it all kicks in when Greg’s parents show up unannounced with a casserole of some sort to see their son off, and while it’s sweet, it causes the man to panic, which prompts Out’s pair of magical, queer-coded animals to step in to help Greg embrace his inner truth. Here’s the teaser.
Unbeknownst to Greg, just as his parents show up, a spectral dog and cat duo from a dimension of queerness complete with thumping disco music manifest themselves on the physical plane and imbue Jim’s collar with a bit of their magic. What neither Greg nor Jim knows is that when either of them touches the collar, it forces them to switch bodies a la Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur, leaving Greg in Jim’s body and Jim in Greg’s. Beyond the body switching itself, the problem at hand is Greg’s concern that by wandering around his house and helping him pack, Greg’s parents will find items that make his queerness obvious to them. To make matters worse, of course, he’s trapped in the body of a dog while his dog crashes around the house in his human body.
Everything about the eight-minute short feels decidedly Pixar, which is to say that its art style is sumptuous, the writing is tight, and the story as a whole is designed to pluck at your heartstrings. But the story also feels very Disney in the way that it dances around having Greg come out to his parents. In a brief moment of reflection just before he and Jim switch bodies, Greg regretfully muses about what it would be like to tell his parents that Manuel’s his boyfriend, and the scene inadvertently highlights the rather unceremonious way that Manuel’s quickly pushed into the backyard as the story begins so that Greg’s parents don’t see him.
In a short film in which so much of the emotional nuance is conveyed visually rather than verbally, things like a closeted white guy hurriedly marching his brown boyfriend out of their house can read in a number of different ways, not all of which are good. In Out’s defence, the film is based on a true story, and one imagines that the filmmakers did not set out to play into the trope of queer characters of colour being framed as ancillary within stories about their white counterparts, but that doesn’t exactly mean it doesn’t come off that way here.