We’re back again with But What if It Was Already Gay. But unlike this column’s other installments, we’re looking at a film with textual queerness: Disney’s Strange World. Is that textual queerness why the movie only played in two cinemas in my country, and I had to wait until it dropped on Disney+ to watch it? I don’t know. In any case, here we are. 

First up, Disney is notorious for announcing its First Explicitly Gay Character™©® only to have that kind of be nothing. Meanwhile, they’ve made actual queer stories in LucaMulan and Frozen, either unintentionally or without acknowledging the fact. (Don’t @ me; I know the latter three have other possible interpretations.) That said, Stange World’s Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) is legitimately, unmistakably queer. 

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The basic premise of Strange World is this: Three generations of men — Jaeger (Dennis Quaid), Searcher (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Ethan Clade — reconcile their differences while saving their world. 

Honestly, I loved this film, and not just because of the queer rep. Unfortunately, reviews for Strange World are middling, and it was not a box office hit. I believe many people struggle with Disney’s shift in storytelling as the company moves from sanitized yet problematic versions of fairy tale classics to stories that appeal to millennials and their kids.

But What if It Was Already Gay - Strange World -- Jaeger Clade is confused

Courtesy: Disney

Strange World follows in Disney’s recent tradition in that it’s mainly about family reconciliation and finally getting an apology from your crappy parent. It’s also incredibly diverse. This movie differs from Encanto and Turning Red because it’s set in an alternate world, not an altered version of our own.

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The world of Strange World is casually diverse; people are queer, in interracial marriages, or wheelchair users, and it’s not a thing. In the words of Searcher himself, their home is a utopia … a utopia that feeds off of the living creature that is their planet. 

That’s right. This is not a movie about pushing the gay agenda, folx; this is a movie about climate change. Early-ish in the film, Ethan tries to play a cooperative tabletop game with his dad and grandfather. However, they cannot understand the premise of “there’s no bad guy.” 

But What if It Was Already Gay Strange World -- Ethan meets a friend

Courtesy: Disney

In the end, the film represents the tensions between Gen Z (Ethan), Xennials (Searcher) and Boomers (Jaeger). I mean, Ethan utters phrases like, “That’s a toxic way to start a relationship.” I see how that might not appeal to some people, but Strange World works as a film first and messaging second. Maybe some people just want to be angry? Even if that means being mad about a three-legged dog and diverse bodies. 

The performances are fantastic, and the animation is gorgeous. The visual gags are on point, too — like when the Clade family dog marks his territory on a spaceship?

(P.S. Ben Shapiro hates this movie, so I recommend it on principle alone)

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How gay is it?

Strange World isn’t Queer as Folk, but I doubt you expect that. Ethan’s queerness is present; it’s a part of him and treated very matter-of-factly. I’ve seen people saying that it’s incidental, and I’d agree to a point. 

While his sexuality is a moot point in that there’s no coming out or focus on it, it does carry weight thematically. Searcher treats Ethan’s crush on Diazo (Jonathan Melo) with ease, going so far as to embarrass his kid in front of said crush excitedly. 

But What if It Was Already Gay - Strange World - Clade family looking at the strange world

Courtesy: Disney

Through that casual and dorky acceptance, Searcher’s reaction when Ethan “comes out” as an explorer instead of a farmer like him hits harder and weirder. Searcher immediately accuses Jaeger of brainwashing Ethan. Then, Searcher calls Ethan “crazy,” telling him he’s a kid who doesn’t know what he wants. Hmm … what does that sound like?

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I believe this is also why they chose to have the Clade family be interracial. For one, Searcher is a crunchy-granola white hippy farmer married to Meridian (Gabrielle Union), who’s Black. V. millennial. But, there’s also an easiness Meridian and Ethan share that doesn’t exist between Searcher and his son. Strange World never specifically pins that on race — and it could be any number of things combined — but it’s an excellent choice. 

But What if It Was Already Gay Strange World - Clade family in a space ship

Courtesy: Disney

In the end, Strange World has a lot to say about masculinity, and Ethan’s sexuality isn’t part of that. I could be cynical and say that’s so foreign markets could cut it out … but it wouldn’t be as easy to do in this movie as in others. Instead, maybe the point is about masculinity and sexuality not having a damn thing to do with one another. 

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That’s because choices down to the characters’ clothing and the fact that Ethan loses his ability to function whenever Diazo is around or mentioned are more integral to the film than previous blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments that Disney has included in their movies.

But What if It Was Already Gay Strange World - looking out at strange world

Courtesy: Disney


I mean, it’s there — the movie is queer. Ethan even has a boyfriend by the end of the film. I hope we get to see another movie soon where the queer characters’ romance is more central, or maybe they can kiss like the parents do multiple times in the film. (But also! Interracial kisses galore!)

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At one point in the film, Jaeger admits to Searcher that he was a horrible father. Instead of contradicting him, Searcher says, “Yeah, but you didn’t have to be.” Sure, they go on to mend their problems, and Jaeger possibly ends up in a throuple. But the main takeaway Strange World left me with is that even in a utopia where race, sexuality and disability don’t matter, parents can still suck. 

I only hope Strange World‘s middling reviews and lackluster box office performance don’t keep Disney from keeping with this kind of storytelling. 🌏🗺⛰

This article was originally published in December 2022.

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