Pixar has been on the forefront of animation innovation for decades. With its recent films, the studio has also begun to incorporate more diverse characters and storytelling. And its most recent step forward on that front doesn’t seem to be sitting well with Russian cinema purveyors -- because they’ve censored one scene in Onward that involves Pixar’s first openly gay character.
Onward follows Barley and Ian Lightfoot (Chris Pratt and Tom Holland), two elf brothers living in a once-magical world who try to bring their father back to life for one day using a magical staff he left behind for them. During their adventure, they encounter Specter (Lena Waithe), a cyclops and a police officer, who at one point mentions that she has a girlfriend. Though that detail doesn’t take up a significant part of the plot, the character is still the first Pixar character to ever openly reference their homosexuality -- which is definitely a step forward toward increasing acceptance toward the LGBTQ community.
Unless you live in Russia, apparently. Onward doesn’t hit theaters there until March 5. But according to the Russian film database KinoPoisk, some fans have already seen the dubbed version. And they say the film has been edited so that Specter mentions a “partner” instead of a “girlfriend.”
This censorship, unfortunately, should not come as a surprise. Russia has a long history of stigmatizing homosexuality, going so far as to pass a “gay propaganda” law in 2013. And in recent years, the country has used that law to crack down on references to homosexuality in other Hollywood films. Just last year, Russia also censored the moment in Avengers: Endgame when a gay member of Steve Rogers’ support group mentions going on a date.
And more significantly, five minutes worth of footage from Rocketman was cut when the film was screened in Moscow. By cutting sex scenes between Elton John and John Reid, the version of Rocketman that Russian film fans saw more or less erased any reference to the iconic singer’s homosexuality. Rocketman’s filmmakers and Elton John released a joint statement condemning the removal of this part of the film, which is essential to telling the singer’s life story.
This heavy level of censorship from Russian film distributors isn’t even limited to the country’s anti-LGBTQ agenda. In 2019, a reference to Stalin in Hellboy was changed so that the titular hero mentions Hitler instead. Basically, at this point, it seems as though any potentially controversial or feather-ruffling Hollywood plot point is up for grabs.
Thus far, neither Disney nor Pixar has commented on the apparent decision to censor Onward in Russia. Stateside, at least, it seems as though the inclusion of a lesbian character has not been met with widespread backlash thus far, but we'll see. Onward opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, March 6.