LAS VEGAS – “Lightyear” is taking queer representation to infinity and beyond.
On Wednesday, CinemaCon attendees got a sneak peek at the first 30 minutes of Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story” spinoff (in theaters June 17), which centers on cocky yet caring space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Chris Evans, taking over for Tim Allen from the first four “Toy Story” movies).
A title card at the start of the film tells us that in 1995, little boy Andy got a toy Buzz: “It was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.”
But in the first footage shown to movie theater owners at CinemaCon, it was a new lesbian character named Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) that stole the show.
More:Disney CEO finally speaks out on ‘Don’t Say Gay.’ But where’s the gay Disney fairy tale?
The film begins with Buzz and fellow space ranger Alisha landing on a strange planet, where they face off against winged aliens and an octopus-like creature. But a crash landing and damaged ship derails their mission, forcing Buzz to find a new way to get their crew safely home to Earth.
Time passes and Alisha soon gets engaged to a woman on the mission’s science crew.
“It’s funny, I wouldn’t have met her if we hadn’t been stranded,” Alisha tells Buzz as she flashes her engagement ring.
An emotional montage shows glimpses of Alisha and her partner starting a family together, at one point greeting each other with a kiss on the lips.
The same-sex kiss first made headlines last month, when Pixar animators spoke out against Disney in an open letter by Variety, saying that corporate executives had demanded cuts “from nearly every moment of overtly gay affection.”
According to SlashFilm, “Lightyear” producer Galyn Susman confirmed that Alisha’s kiss was initially cut from the movie. But it was later restored in light of Disney’s “Don’t Say Gay” controversy, when it was revealed the company had donated roughly $200,000 to Republican politicians who supported the bill, which forbids discussions of sexual orient in elementary schools.
Despite student walkouts and criticism from Hollywood, the White House and many in the LGBTQ+ community nationwide, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law last month, with more than a dozen states introducing similar legislation.
Alisha isn’t the first queer character in a Disney/Pixar film, although she’s certainly the most meaningful. In recent years, the Mouse House has received blowback for its feeble attempts at LGBTQ+ representation: a lesbian cop in Pixar’s “Onward” who briefly mentions her wife, and a lesbian couple strolling outside together in “Finding Dory.”
Other live-action Disney films have relegated queer characters to the background, like a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kiss between two women in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” or the “exclusively gay moment” of Josh Gad’s LeFou dancing with another man in “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Being able to put back the kiss was important to us,” Susman told at a Q&A panel for “Lightyear” earlier this month. “It’s a touching moment” and “we’re really excited about that.”