Disney's first feature-length animated movie to showcase queer lead characters, and even a same-sex kiss, is now in limbo after the closure of the studio working on it.
Employees of Blue Sky Studios, located in Greenwich, Connecticut, say they were told on Feb. 9 that Disney was shutting them down as of April, and that the entire staff would be laid off.
Employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News on the condition of anonymity said closing the studio means that Nimona will likely never see the light of day.
"It was a first for our studio in a lot of respects and what would have been a first for Disney, I believe," one employee said. "It featured two male leads kissing, it featured a gender-nonconforming lead heroine."
Nimona started as a webcomic created by artist Noelle Stevenson. In 2015, it was published as a graphic novel by HarperCollins. Its titular character is a shape-shifter with a penchant for chaos and violence. She teams up with villain Lord Ballister Blackheart to go after Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, the supposed hero.
In the series (Warning: spoiler alert!), Blackheart and Goldenloin have a romantic history, and the film adaptation was to make that clear, including an "I love you" scene, the Blue Sky employee said. Two other employees were able to confirm those details to BuzzFeed News.
According to the employee, Disney told Blue Sky Studios the shutdown was due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
Disney did not immediately respond to questions from BuzzFeed News about the content and status of Nimona, but in a statement, a spokesperson said: "Given the current economic realities, after much consideration and evaluation, we have made the difficult decision to close filmmaking operations at Blue Sky Studios."
Stevenson, who could not be reached for comment, tweeted their own dismay regarding Nimona's fate.
Disney has had queer minor characters before, such as a presumed lesbian couple in Finding Dory. The first canonically gay character was LeFou, Gaston's sidekick in the live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Even LeFou's subtle queerness was enough to prompt backlash, including a boycott movement and some theaters refusing to screen the movie.
Last May, Pixar released an animated short titled Out on Disney+ with a gay male lead, but Nimona would have been the first feature-length film with queer lead characters.
"That is heartbreaking because we are not only losing our jobs, we’re losing our family, our workplace, we’re losing the closure of being able to send Nimona out into the world, where it could change kids' lives," one of the employees said. "I just want this movie to be seen by the world, because it needs to be seen by the world."
Employees told BuzzFeed News the film was about 75% complete, with an estimated 10 months of work to go. Blue Sky Studios is a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox, which Disney acquired in a 2019 merger.
Another Blue Sky Studios employee who worked on Nimona told BuzzFeed News there's no clear connection between the film's content and the studio's closure, but they're not sure they had Disney's full support. For example, they said, Disney hadn't spoken publicly about Nimona as they had for other upcoming releases.
"I personally didn’t see the support from Disney," they said. "I don’t think that Disney would be enticed to make it, personally. They don’t have a great track record of making queer-inclusive media."
Like their colleague, the employee said the team really felt they were making something groundbreaking and are frustrated that it may never be seen. Aside from the queer themes, they said the studio was using advanced technical production techniques and the final product could have "easily" won an Oscar.
"It would have been huge and it’s just devastating that it’s not out there," they said. "If enough people are angry, maybe the studio will have some incentive to make this wonderful movie. That would be great."