- Former Blue Sky Studios staffers say Disney took issue with a same-sex kiss from its movie "Nimona."
- Disney had inherited Blue Sky in its 2019 acquisition of Fox film assets, but shut it down in 2021.
- Disney faced criticism over political donations in light of Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Blue Sky Studios, the animation studio behind the "Ice Age" series, was deep in development on its movie "Nimona," based on the graphic novel of the same name by ND Stevenson, when the studio was shut down in February 2021 after 34 years.
Disney had inherited Blue Sky in its 2019 acquisition of the Fox film studio and other assets. Two years into the merger, Disney shuttered Blue Sky, effectively scrapping "Nimona" ahead of a planned January 2022 release.
The movie, Blue Sky staffers told Insider last year, centered on a gender non-conforming main character and featured LGBTQ+ themes rarely seen in animated movies. But some staffers said more recently that some of the concepts faced pushback from Disney.
Today, Disney is embroiled in controversy over Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill, which would ban discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity at schools in kindergarten through the third grade.
Disney and its CEO Bob Chapek faced heavy criticism over the company's initial silence on the legislation given the company's history of political donations in Florida, including to sponsors of the bill.
Three former Blue Sky staffers with knowledge of meetings between Disney and Blue Sky leadership teams told Insider this week that Disney leadership took issue with some queer elements of "Nimona," particularly with a same-sex kiss. The former staffers preferred to remain anonymous to protect future career prospects.
The pushback started during a meeting in mid-2020 between the leadership teams, the former staffers said. Blue Sky leadership felt enough pressure in this meeting to leave the kiss out of future presentations to Disney, despite hoping to ultimately include it in the film, the sources said.
Disney did not return a request for comment.
"Nimona" takes place in a futuristic medieval setting and follows a young shape shifter who teams up with a knight to take down a corrupt government. The same-sex kiss in the movie, the former staffers said, would have been between Ballister Blackheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin, who have a romantic relationship in the graphic novel.
"We need more queer stories, but we also need to call out how nefarious it is when you don't tell queer stories," one of the former staffers told Insider. "When the biggest entertainment company in the world creates content for children and systematically censors queer content, they are pushing queer children to dark places."
The "Don't Say Gay" fallout prompted Chapek to send a company-wide memo on March 7, saying in part, "the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support."
Following further outcry, Chapek then issued an apology to Disney employees, saying that the company would stop all political donations in Florida and bolster its support for LGBTQ+ advocacy.
"You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down," Chapek wrote in the March 11 email.
But the former Blue Sky staffers weren't convinced.
"Chapek championed inclusive storytelling and LGBTQ content, but what content?" the second former Blue Sky staffer said. "Disney is its own biggest hurdle in telling those stories."
In a statement last week, LGBTQ+ employees of the Disney-owned animation studio Pixar accused Disney leadership of demanding cuts to "nearly every moment of overtly gay affection" in its movies.
"We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were," the statement said.
The three former Blue Sky staffers said that "Nimona" experienced similar pressure from Disney leadership. The former staffers said that the omission of the same-sex kiss caused confusion within Blue Sky, which had been a tight-knit group they referred to as a family. The first staffer said it "caused a weird atmosphere" at the studio that diverged from his experience up to that point, especially among LGBTQ+ staffers.
Blue Sky leadership eventually showed reels to staffers that included the kiss, the sources said, but the studio was shut down soon after.
"Nimona" had faced other hiccups through its development process, notably delays. But it was still a project Blue Sky staffers were enthusiastic about, and felt it could be a step forward for the studio. Now, it's unlikely to see the light of day.
"It was a film we believed in, that we loved, and that we thought people needed to see," the third former staffer said.