NEW YORK (AP) – In Steven Clay Jäger’s 23 years as an animator at Pixar, he has drawn a seven-armed octopus, a Canadian daredevil, and a panting toy penguin. But there were scenes that he never expected to be animated until he started working on his short film “Out”.
Hunter wrote and directed the nine-minute Pixar film that recently debuted on Disney +. It’s about a man named Greg who temporarily changes bodies with his dog Jim while packing to move. While Greg tries desperately to hide evidence of his friend Manuel, he discovers the courage to reveal his parents’ sexual orientation.
Greg, loosely based on Hunter, is Pixar’s first protagonist of LGBTQ. And while “Out” contains somewhat more typical Pixar material (a pair of rainbow animals, a cameo by Wheezy from “Toy Story”), it contains images that have never been seen in the studio’s 25 years or Disney’s longer history . For example, when Greg and his friend Manuel hug.
“When I first held Greg and Manuel in the bedroom, I roared my face,” says Hunter. “All these emotions came up because I realized that I had been in animation for decades and had never drawn that in my career. It just hit me. “
“Out” is a small movie about a streaming service, not one of Pixar’s global blockbusters. But it has already had an overwhelming impact and has been hailed as a milestone in family entertainment. GLAAD called it “a big step forward for the Walt Disney Company”.
“Out is the best of Disney and Pixar’s legacy as a place for heartwarming stories about how to find your own inner strength in the face of life’s challenges,” said Jeremy Blacklow, director of entertainment media at GLAAD.
From his home in Oakland, California, Hunter, a 51-year-old animator who makes his directorial debut, humbly received the warm reactions. Last weekend he managed to meet his producer Max Sachar for a solemn, socially distant glass of rose. But he hesitated to talk about such a personal film.
“I felt I had to do that,” Hunter said in one of his first interviews. “I only got out when I was 27 and I’m 51 now, and I feel like I’m still dealing with it. You can’t hide half of your life and then carry the luggage around. You have to process it somehow. I had fortunate enough to process it when this film was made. “
It is part of the joke, part of the truth, that “Out” is called “based on a true story”. The first shot shows a magical dog and cat jumping through a rainbow. Hunter had a dog named Jim, but of course no dog “Freaky Friday”. But the central story is autobiographical.
“I went through the relationship between Manuel and Greg,” he says. “I wasn’t out with my family and I was in a relationship, but they didn’t know anything about him. It put a heavy strain on our relationship and we broke up because of that. And this separation led to me calling a Pixar conference room my family came. “
Hunter had the idea of a coming out film five years ago. But it was the Pixar SparkShorts program designed to discover new voices and experiment with different techniques that gave Hunter an opportunity. After working on the Spark short film “Purl”, he posed “Out”. It was lit in green and finished by December.
“It was cool that he told this coming-out story, but he did when he came out as a filmmaker,” says Sachar. “It was really wonderful for everyone to be part of and to be a witness.”
LGBTQ characters increasingly appear in Disney films, but often do so fleetingly. Gaston’s buddy LeFou (Josh Gad) was suggested as gay in the live action “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017. Pixar’s “Onward,” which was released earlier this year, showed what many consider to be Disney’s first externally gay cartoon character: a policewoman voiced by Lena Waithe and referring to her friend. Some Middle East countries have banned the film.
After all, “Out” is much easier. For example, it includes a tender kiss between Manuel and Greg. To animate it, Hunter turned to Wendell Lee, the only other gay animator who was with Pixar from the very beginning of Hunter.
“I just went to him and said,” You have to animate that. “And he said,” Damn it, “Hunter says.” I said: I want a kiss. I don’t want a kiss. “
Hunter recently saw “Out” through Zoom with his Canadian family. It was a moment of connection that he hopes will have a similar impact on others during quarantine. For young and old, gay and straight, “Out” means being proud of who you are, whoever you are.
As Hunter pondered the importance of the film, he noticed the death of playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer on Thursday. “Out” didn’t come out on Harvey Milk Day by chance.
“We’re just an extension of it. We’re moving towards more visibility. That doesn’t mean we take over. We’re just trying to tell our stories like everyone else,” says Hunter. “And we’re not going anywhere. We are here to stay. “
Follow AP film writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP