Why Lightyear’s gay kiss meant so much to me as a queer Disney fan

Daniel Megarry
Queer character Alisha Hawthorne, who shares a gay kiss in Lightyear
Disney/Pixar

Disney and Pixar’s latest animated epic Lightyear has caused fierce debate after featuring a brief same-sex kiss, but it’s moments like this that queer people like myself needed to see when we were younger and scared to be ourselves.

Growing up, Disney animations were always my favorite movies. Whether it was The Lion King, Aladdin, or the best one of all, Toy Story, these VHS tapes (yes, I’m showing my age here) were on constant repeat. I loved watching them, but there was always a feeling that the fairytale romances and catchy love songs depicted on-screen just weren’t meant for me.

Even as I got older and moved onto superhero movies and trashy teen comedies, it was incredibly rare to see LGBTQ+ characters on screen – and if they did exist, it was mostly for comedic relief. Not being able to see anyone like me when I was struggling to come to terms with my sexuality made that journey particularly difficult and lonely.

Alisha Hawthorne and Buzz in Lightyear

While things are slowly getting better – with shows like Heartstopper and movies like Eternals featuring likable queer characters – Disney has so far trailed far, far behind. It feels like the company has spent years teasing ‘big’ moments of LGBTQ+ representation in their movies and shows, but they’ve never quite got it right.

So when I stepped into the cinema to watch Lightyear, already anticipating disappointment over the latest promise of a proper queer moment in a Disney/Pixar movie, I certainly didn’t expect to be left wiping away the tears over a picture-perfect, Disney-fied same-sex relationship.

Disney finally gets LGBTQ+ representation right in Lightyear

Without going too much into spoiler territory, the majority of Lightyear follows Buzz as he attempts to reach hyper-speed so he and his crew can leave the planet they’ve crash-landed on. Every time he tries, the people back home age around four years, adding some real emotional stakes to the mission.

Between each attempt, Buzz watches on as his Space Ranger partner, Alisha Hawthorne, starts a family with a science officer from their ship called Kiko. During an emotional montage, we see them grow older, raise a child together, and share a kiss on their anniversary.

While this controversy-courting kiss only lasts a second, it’s a pivotal moment that makes Buzz realize the life that he’s missing out on. In terms of emotional weight, it’s strikingly similar to the tear-jerking opening scene of another Pixar movie, Up.

Alisha Hawthorne in Lightyear

What makes this scene in Lightyear so great is that there’s no big ‘coming out’ moment for Alisha and Kiko’s relationship; no othering, no homophobia. Buzz doesn’t need to accept his partner’s sexuality because that’s just the way she is, and everyone’s okay with that. But perhaps most importantly, Alisha and Kiko’s relationship is presented as desirable.

Throughout history, anti-gay laws and bigoted social views have stopped queer people from having relationships and starting families like their heterosexual counterparts, leaving them effectively ‘on the outside’. In many parts of the world, this still happens even today.

But in Lightyear, it’s Buzz – the (presumably) straight white male – who’s on the outside looking in, realizing what he’s been missing out on. For him, this same-sex relationship is the idealistic family life, even if that’s not what he wants right now. I’m struggling to think of another movie, especially an animated movie, that has presented queer love and family in this way.

Alisha in Lightyear

Of course, I’m hesitant to give Disney too much credit – partly because I’m a massive cynic, and also because the studio reportedly tried to scrub the same-sex kiss from the movie before bringing it back after being called out by Pixar staff. Nevertheless, I also can’t deny how important this moment is.

Besides, in the end, the right decision was made. Even in the face of fierce conservative backlash and outright bans placed on the movie in several countries, Disney reinstated the kiss and delivered the emotional scene as it was always intended.

Lightyear finally showed the world what genuine, heartfelt, and impactful queer representation can look like in a Disney movie. Let’s hope things only get better from here on out.

Lightyear is in cinemas now, and you can read our review right here.

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