Pixar has released its first film starring an openly gay lead character. Out by Steven Hunter is part of the animation studio’s Spark Shorts series, which gives a platform to underrepresented stories and storytellers. The film centres around Greg, a gay man who’s struggling to come out to his parents. Using the time-tested cinematic trope of the body swap – in this case the protagonist swapping places with his dog Jim – the short film sets out to show Greg becoming comfortable and proud of who he really is.
“On an average day, Greg's life is filled with family, love and a rambunctious little dog – but despite all of this, Greg has a secret,” reads the film’s blurb. “Today is different, though. With some help from his precocious pup, and a little bit of magic, Greg might learn that he has nothing to hide.” Director Steven Hunter is an animator at Pixar, with credits on Toy Story 4, Finding Nemo, Wall-E and Monsters Inc, among many others.
Pixar has made significant progress in this domain recently, with its latest feature film Onward including the studio’s first openly gay character Officer Spector, voiced by Lena Waithe, and a same-sex kiss in the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Jeremy Blacklow from American LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD wrote in a blog post on Friday: “Out represents the best of Disney and Pixar’s legacy as a place for heartwarming stories about finding one’s own inner strength in the face of life’s challenges. The release of Out… represents a huge step forward for The Walt Disney Company in establishing itself as a welcoming home for stories about all loving couples and families, including LGBTQ ones.”
The Spark Shorts programme launched in 2019 to support in-house talent at Pixar to pursue passion projects, giving six months and a comparably low budget to tell a story of personal importance. As a result, the films spotlight stories that are largely untold in mainstream animation and promote diversity in the sector. Float by Bobby Rubio is the first Pixar film to feature Filipino American characters, and was inspired by the director’s own son, who has autism. Loop by Erica Milsom also focuses on a non-verbal autistic main character; Purl by Kristen Lester is about a pink ball of yarn struggling to fit in at her new job at a male-centric startup; and Wind by Edwin Chang is a metaphor for immigration, inspired by the Korean American director’s grandmother and his family’s move to the US.
You can watch Out and other Spark Shorts films on Disney’s streaming platform Disney+.