The latest Disney animated movie with a pro-LGBT subplot fell short of box office expectations over the Thanksgiving holiday, even as another of its Christmas offerings drew controversy for a scene involving kids inadvertently thanking Satan. “Strange World,” a sci-fi comedy about a family of explorers on a mission to save the planet from a mysterious ecological crisis, earned less than $19 million against its $180 million budget, Variety reported, citing box office experts who estimate the film could lose at least $100 million in its theatrical run as it needs to gross $360 million to break even. The animated feature includes a subplot about a gay 16-year-old boy named Ethan, voiced by comedian Jaboukie Young-White, who is romantically attracted to another boy. Ethan marks the first openly gay character in a Disney film, according to Yahoo News.
“Strange World” was expected among most analysts to earn as much as $40 million over the holiday break. But after grossing $18.6 million, the opening now ranks as one of Disney’s lowest-selling opening weekends in recent memory, falling well short of other family films like “Encanto” and “Lightyear,” which featured its own LGBT subplot. Young-White, who said he identified as gay in a 2017 appearance on “The Tonight Show” Starring Jimmy Fallon, told Yahoo the movie doesn’t focus on Ethan’s sexuality. “I love Ethan’s character just because there is so much that he’s figuring out at this time, and his identity and so many facets of his identity are all of him at once,” Young-White was quoted as saying. “It’s not a story about him coming out. It’s not a story about him trying to find acceptance for his sexuality. It’s just Ethan coming into himself wholly, fully, and in an environment that is ready to support him.”
A former comedian and writer for “The Daily Show,” Young-White was raised Catholic and hasn’t shied away from making controversial comments about Christianity. He once referred to Jesus Christ as “looking cute on the cross” in a stand-up special and, in September, released a video for a rap song about gay sex in which he recites explicit lyrics. While reviews for “Strange World” have been mixed, with critics calling it everything from “mundane” to “audacious,” parents and audiences have been similarly divided. The film currently nets an audience score of 64 on Rotten Tomatoes. Another recent Disney offering, its newest Christmas series “The Santa Clauses,” featured a scene in which young children dressed as elves hold up letters spelling out the words, “We love you, Satan.” In a clip of the Christmas series, the children each hold up a letter in an effort to spell out “We Love You Santa,” but a couple of the letters were switched around, leading to the mistaken spelling.
The clip, from a Disney spinoff series of the popular “Santa Clause” films of the 1990s starring Tim Allen, prompted some backlash from parents on social media. The controversies come as Disney’s bottom line has failed to reach analyst projections in recent months. While the company’s theme parks brought in a record $7.4 billion in the third quarter of 2022, profit margins fell short of projections. Margins at Disney’s parks and cruise ships tumbling to over 15%, well short of analyst expectations, The Wall Street Journal reported. Despite a significant jump in subscribers for Disney+, the company’s streaming division, which also owns Hulu and ESPN+, saw nearly $1.47 billion in net operating losses, more than double from a year ago, according to CNBC. In March, Disney employees spoke out against the company’s LGBT advocacy, warning that its public opposition to a parental rights bill passed in Florida will risk losing its reputation as a source of national unity.
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