New Disney film Strange World teaches kids being gay is ‘normal’ in the best way

Animated still showing a family of five characters, and a dog, sitting on a green vehicle in a pink alien landscape

Disney’s new film Strange World includes the studio’s first gay lead character – but doesn’t make a big deal of it.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade, Gabrielle Union as his wife, Meridian, and Jaboukie Young-White as their son, Ethan, Strange World features a romantic relationship between two teenage boys as they’re caught up on an adventure around a mysterious planet called Avalonia.

Ethan, a happy-go-lucky kid with a thirst for life, ends up developing feelings for Diazo, a fellow youth he meets while the Clade clan gets busy saving the world.

“His gayness is one part of him. He’s also bold and wildly empathetic, which is why he becomes sort of the conservationist in our film,” director Don Hall told Variety.

Gabrielle Union, who is parent to a queer child, Zaya Wade, in real life, said that it’s not about “normalising” anything.

“Folks keep using the word ‘normalise,’ and you don’t have to normalize normal,” she told Variety. “It just is. You got to see a loving family that was incredibly supportive of their child’s identity, and their version of trying to steer him to safety or steer him is more in terms of his occupation — and the route he’s gonna go in life.”

Ethan is biracial, another aspect of his identity that isn’t fussed over in the film.

Young-White, who voices the teen, said he thought it “pretty cool” that it was done in “a way that isn’t heavy-handed or forced”.

“It’s kind of just the way it is.”

2022 saw the release of several Disney animated movies that started pushing the envelope.

Turning Red drew the ire of right-wing commentators because of its unashamed portrayal of a young girl getting her period for the first time.

Lightyear faced a similar backlash because of a kissing scene between space ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) and her partner, Kiko.

The scene was deleted and later restored amid wider controversy over Disney’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights – the studio was forced into opposing Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law after initially remaining silent on it.

Amid the row, LGBTQ+ Pixar employees accused Disney of cutting “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” from their films.