In a new interview with Variety, the prolific Disney filmmaker and choreographer was asked about the “queer aesthetic” in his movies, including beloved films like Hocus Pocus (1993) and the HSM franchise, which kicked off with its namesake movie musical in 2006. Naturally, Ryan—played by Lucas Grabeel and written to be very queer-coded—came up.
“I think, yeah, that [queer aesthetic] is just there, and whether it’s screaming at you, or whether it’s just sort of quietly there, it’s there,” Ortega told the magazine. “The character of Ryan [played by Lucas Grabeel] in High School Musical, Sharpay’s twin brother, we decided he [was] probably going to come out in college. It was less about coming out and just more about letting his true colors come forward.”
When pressed about if he ever seriously considered making Ryan openly gay, Ortega said he “didn’t think” it was a possibility at the time:
I have to be honest with you. I didn’t think at the time—and Disney is the most progressive group of people I’ve ever worked with.
I was concerned because it was family and kids, that Disney might not be ready to cross that line and move into that territory yet. So, I just took it upon myself to make choices that I felt that those who were watching would grab. They would see it, they would feel it, they would know it and they would identify with it. And that is what happened.
Even with Ryan very much in the closet, HSM, HSM 2, and HSM 3 remain some of Disney’s most glorious camp-fests to date. For that, we have Ortega to thank.
Read the Disney legend’s full Q&A with Variety here.