10 huge wins in queer animation from 2022

“Flee,” “Strange World” and more headline a fantastic year for queer and trans animation

When it comes to queer and trans representation in animation, 2022 started out rough, especially during former Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s complacent response to Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that had employees participating in a walkout protest. But ultimately, 2022 in animation was triumphant, from Flee making history at the Oscars, to trans characters traversing the supernatural and even Disney going gay on the big screen and the small. 

Here are 10 great moments in queer and trans animation this year

Flee’s milestone Oscar nominations 

The Danish animated documentary Flee, which told the story of Amin Nawabi’s upbringing as a queer Afghan refugee, was instantly praised following its debut at Sundance in 2021. By the time awards season rolled around this year, the film began breaking the glass ceiling, expanding the medium of adult animation as a whole, including nabbing award nominations in the categories of Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary and Best International Feature at the Academy Awards. Despite the fact at the award ceremony, three Disney live-action princesses Lily James, Naomi Scott and Halle Bailey called animation “the genre that’s put in the background to appease kids,” Flee’s landmark nominations were the biggest push an adult animated feature got to date, pushing the medium into new territories.

Nimona rises again

In early 2021, Disney shuttered the Greenwich-based Blue Sky Studios, which they inherited in their Fox buyout in 2019. One of the projects in production at the time was Nimona, based on the ND Stevenson graphic novel of the same name, which was subsequently cancelled. Cut to April 2022, Netflix, DNEG Animation and Annapurna join together to resurrect Nimona from the dead and give it a 2023 release date slated on Netflix. The film follows a shapeshifter (Chloë Grace Moretz) who teams up with a knight (Riz Ahmed) to take down a corrupt government. Under Disney, the film went through pushback regarding its same-sex romance between characters Ballister Boldheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin, who share a romantic relationship and on-screen kiss, which would have been Blue Sky’s first same-sex kiss. With Blue Sky gone and the project continuing, we will get to soon see Stevenson’s beloved comic come to life in cinematic form.

Michael Collins’s louder and prouder glow-up (The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder)

 

The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder lived up to its titular name. Penny Proud’s (Kyla Pratt) circle of friends had some updates in their character designs from the original early 2000s series to fit the Gen-Z scene. The most welcoming supporting character who received the biggest glow-up was Michael Collins (EJ Johnson). In the original series, Michael was a heavily queer-coded character whose queerness was never made canon. Now in 2022, Michael gets to live their truth as a pink-and-black-haired, out gay enby fashionista who sports different clothing in every onscreen appearance. Outside of Michael, Louder and Prouder incorporated positive and inclusive depictions of Black queerness all around, especially with the casting of Billy Porter and Zachary Quinto as a gay couple who befriends the Prouds along with a guest appearance by Lil Nas X in the finale. 

A transmasc gives Baymax sanitary pads (Baymax!)

At first glance, one might expect the Big Hero 6 spin-off Baymax! to be content fodder for Disney+, but upon viewing, it was one of the most surprisingly endearing series, with some groundbreaking inclusion from Walt Disney Animation Studios. One of the most prolific moments that caught everyone off guard came (and prompted some hissy fits from transphobes) from the third episode, “Sofia,” where the lovable inflatable robot Baymax assists a preteen girl who gets her first period before a talent show. In a scene where Baymax is undecided on which sanitary products to get the kid, a person wearing a shirt with a trans flag gives him a box of pads. While obviously small, this authentic moment was a landmark for trans visibility, which is nonexistent from the mouse house. 

Harlivy’s “Eat. Bang! Kill.” tour (Harley Quinn)

At the end of Season 2 of DC’s adult animated comedy Harley Quinn, the romantic pairing between Harley (Kaley Cuoco) and Poison Ivy (Lake Bell)—aka “Harlivy”—became official. In Season 3, the bisexual baddies in crime go on an “Eat. Bang! Kill.” tour across the globe. Throughout the season, Harlivy’s relationship goes through obstacles and seems at times on the brink of a breakup. But instead, the showrunners go the nuanced route and explore the extent to which Harley and Ivy support one another and their passions.

Alisha Hawthorne smooches *Borat Voice* HER WIFE (Lightyear)

During the Disney employee revolt against the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Pixar heads came out and expressed the issues they face incorporating queer elements into their movies. One specifically was from the upcoming Lightyear movie, which featured a same-sex kiss. Disney initially cut the kiss from the film, but when Pixar staffers put their upper management on blast on main, Disney restored the scene of commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) kissing her wife. This was the first onscreen same-sex kiss in both a Pixar feature and Disney theatrical history. The film is framed as the movie Andy saw in 1995, which means that the Toy Story universe is way more progressive than ours. We are living in the worst timeline, for real.

All of Dead End: Paranormal Park 

There are so many moments within comics creator Hamish Steele’s groundbreaking supernatural horror comedy series about Barney (Zach Barack), a trans teenage boy working at a paranormal amusement park to choose from, so I’m going to throw it all in here: the depth of Barney’s trans identity, the overarching drive of him wanting to work at the Paranormal Park, Barney and Logs’s (Kenny Tran) cute romantic subplot, and Norma’s (Kody Kavitha) bi-coming-out story in Season 2. Dead End is one of the best animated debuts of this year and progressed queer representation in a very multicultural and diverse capacity. Choosing one area in the myriad great character moments all around is not easy. But for now, let’s go with Logs and Barney’s first kiss at the end of Season 1, because it’s earned and made me squeal in joy. 

Lumity’s first kiss (The Owl House)

Creator Dana Terrace and her The Owl House team have done more for queer representation in Disney in two years than the centennial run of the company itself. In the span of the series’ run, it hit several Disney firsts, including the first bisexual lead protagonist, same-sex romantic plot, non-binary character and more. Without question, Luz (Sarah-Nicole Robles) and Amity’s (Mae Whitman) first kiss was revolutionary as much as it was sweet. In the episode “Clouds on the Horizon,” Luz reunites with her girlfriend Amity before she and her friends venture off to confront the evil Emperor Belos. Luz promises to take Amity on the most mundane, slice-of-life romantic date ever. The two share a sweet, romantic kiss that was so passionate, the animators had it move at a fluid 24 frames per second to elevate the importance. Lumity was the first onscreen kiss by a leading same-sex couple in a Disney animated series. While the series has just two episodes left in its overall run, the moments of Lumity shared throughout the years will last forever.

Raúl helps save the day (Wendell & Wild)

Stop-motion filmmaker Henry Selick crafts a vastly diverse world full of multicultural identities, demons and ghouls in his supernatural family horror flick Wendell & Wild. The film follows an Afro-punk orphan girl named Kat (Lyric Ross) who transfers from juvie to an all-girls school—well, 99 percent all girls. Kat befriends a trans teenage boy named Raúl (Sam Zelaya), who is soft-spoken and into Aztec art. Raúl makes history as the first trans character in a wide-release stop-motion film. Out of the kindness of his heart and artful skills, Raúl helps Kat stop an industrial prison plot that threatens their town.

Ethan Clade’s warm welcome (Strange World)

Disney’s 61st animated feature film, Strange World, follows a family of explorers: Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), his son Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Searcher’s teenage son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White), traversing a strange world to save their town’s power. Ethan is gay and has a crush on one of his friends with whom he plays trading cards. Ethan marks the first leading gay character in a Disney animation feature, and the handling of his identity is naturally normalized as queerness should be. It’s never treated as a triumphant big deal, nor does it take any attention away from the story at hand, which is focused on generational conflicts between fathers and sons. 

Rendy Jones is a film and television journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. They are the owner of self-published outlet Rendy Reviews, a member of the Critics Choice Association, and a part time stand up comedian.

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