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Selectively woke

The Lightfoot brothers (© 2019 - Disney/Pixar)

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Selectively woke

Onward’s LGBT character turns straight for foreign audiences

It was one of the Babylon Bee’s characteristically barbed headlines—a joke that skates so close to reality, it’s hard to tell if it qualifies more as satire or commentary: “Disney to Introduce New LGBTQ Superhero Whose Superpower Is Turning Invisible in International Markets.”

That’s exactly what’s happening with Pixar’s latest movie, Onward.

The PG-rated film tells the story of the Lightfoot brothers, a pair of elves played by Spider-Man and Star-Lord themselves, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. They live in a land that was once full of magic. But now the manticores have gone corporate and the pixies are happy to travel on wheels rather than wings. 

When the boys discover a spell that can revive their deceased father for one day, they set off on a quest to bring enchantment back to their world. Or at least back to their house. 

The much-ballyhooed LBGT representation comes from a character so minor she needn’t have a name, though she’s given one for the sake of all that promotional press. Specter the Centaur says, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” That’s it. Scratch an earlobe and you’ll miss it.  

You definitely won’t hear it if you see the movie in Russia, though, because there the line has been changed. Specter, a police officer, says “my partner’s daughter.”

We’ve seen this sort of thing from Disney before with Rise of Skywalker and Avengers: Endgame. The studio strikes a brave progressive pose in English-speaking nations, trusting the media won’t call them out for leaving inclusivity on the cutting room floor in places like China, Singapore, or the Middle East.

The good news: If you’re a die-hard Pixar fan wrestling over whether it’s worth taking your children to see this one, fear not. Onward is a fun-enough romp, but you definitely won’t be missing the next Incredibles or Toy Story

The movie is at its best when it focuses on an under-explored relationship in animation: brotherhood. Too often, though, it reaches for the obvious joke and expected message. The lame PR campaign surrounding Specter feels symptomatic of the movie’s overall shortcomings. Like the fantasy world in which the story takes place, Pixar has sacrificed part of its magic to commercial interests.