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Profit VS. Doing the Right Thing: Why Disney's “Lightyear” Kiss is Important
By Veronica Letourneau
June 22nd, 2022
Photo: India Times - Source
The Walt Disney Company has primarily always been concerned with making money, and thus putting out content that will hopefully provide a strong return on investments. I mean, which Hollywood studio isn’t, right? After all, with Disney’s numerous theme parks, IP libraries, and the acquisitions of 20th Century Fox, Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios, it is by far the biggest and most powerful studio to date. Michel Eisner, the company’s former CEO between1984- 2005, once wrote:
“We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. But to make money, it is often important to make history, to make art, or to make some significant statement… In order to make money, we must always make entertaining movies, and if we make entertaining movies, at times we will reliably make history, art, a statement, or all three.”
Of course the studio has undergone a couple of reiterations of its regime since the Eisner days, but the main idea of not being too concerned with necessarily making “history”, but what primarily appears to have been “money”, seems to have been the Disney company’s business model since the studios' earliest days (minus the incredible and inspiring film that was, “Black Panther” in 2018 - a film which was both historic and profitable). With the extensive IP library that Disney has access to today, through its major acquisitions, allows them to monetize even more by remaking and rebooting old hits - both on the film and TV side. When it comes to content, Disney seems to always follow a similar story formula which pulls audiences in front of screens. Marvel films equal superhero franchises. They are event films, with already established fan bases which are great at incorporating goofy humor. Meanwhile, films like Frozen sell young kids, worldwide, on the idea that they too can someday become a “Disney Princess or Prince”. And in terms of animation, who doesn’t love cute animals? Again, tapping into these universal emotions of humans helps pull audiences into theaters and subscribers onto platforms. Thus, this “safer method” of producing content is more likely to translate into profit, which is the studio’s most important end goal. And this is why their latest film, “Lightyear,” is such a significant film.
“Lightyear,” the 2022 film about the real-life hero of the “Toy Story” toy “Buzz Lightyear”, had a scene that garnered some controversy and even caused the ban of the film in 14 different counties. The scene in question was a kiss between two women. In the film, Hawthorne (voiced by
Uzo Aduba) enters the room, where there’s a celebration set up for her and she gives her partner a quick peck. It is the only physical display of affection in the film, besides hugs. The scene was originally supposed to be cut from the film by Disney, but was restored when Pixar employees complained. In my opinion, this is Disney choosing to do the right thing versus just focusing on making a big profit. Despite the ban, the film brought in $51 million domestically in its opening week, which is the best an animated film has performed since the pandemic. Of course, for a company like Disney, this is considered to be a low domestic opening. However, the film is still in theaters and has a chance to make more money. But despite all that, it’s the principle that matters in this scenario - the principle being Disney having chosen to stand on the right side of history.
So why exactly was it so important for Disney to keep this scene in the film even if it meant taking a big risk? Well, in the past, physical affection between queer characters would have have been completely cut out by the studio in order to appeal to certain countries. Or they would have just stuck to implicit “hints” to queer references like via a hug or hand-holding. In Disney’s other films, like for instance Marvel’s “Eternals” and Lucasfilms’“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” there were scenes of same-sex couples kissing, which were ultimately removed when released in certain countries. The goal there was to clearly appeal to audiences in those countries, so as to achieve greater revenue. But in “Lightyear,” Disney decided not to take that scene out as they’ve been known to do in the past, which is pretty historic.
In “Lightyear,” the studio took a chance in efforts to normalize same-sex couples in a very tasteful and appropriate way for child audiences. The more we normalize and show respect for the existence of queer people in major studio projects, including films and television for younger audiences, the more we will inspire generations to come and help achieve meaningful and positive change in the world. Queer representation is slowly and finally receiving more recognition and normalization. And this film is another great and hopeful step in the direction. Disney may not historically be known for always prioritizing making “history”, but with “Lightyear,” I salute them for sure taking a stand and choosing to do the right thing by fighting the good fight.