Thursday, February 18, 2016

Male Duo: Jumba and Pleakley (part the second)

Double Coding

It might seem like I am tossing in a ton of examples in the following, but I actually had to cut down to make this readable. These are some of the more prominent examples. Check out part one for some video examples.


The franchise has consistently shown that Pleakley likes dressing as a woman not just because it is a part of his disguise, and that he has insecurities over this (particularly at the start of the franchise). He clearly think that this might not be considered socially acceptable behavior for an earth male, it seems not to be for his species (Season 1, Episode 14). He will quickly justify his love of female clothing by reminding everyone that it is for his disguise.

For example, in Season 1, Episode 22 Pleakley wanders into a conversation that Lilo, Jumba and Stitch are having about one of the recent experiment cousins they are trying to find.

Pleakley is holding a pair of long dangling earrings.

"I can’t get these earrings to stay on. Has anyone seen the duct tape?" He asks.

Lilo, Jumba and Stitch all realize at the same time that because Pleakley has no ears, he will be perfect to help them catch the cousin. They all simply stare at Pleakley in silence. He becomes nervous about this, assuming the silence is them being judgmental about his want to wear earrings.

"What? I’m going to the store. It’s my disguise, remember?"

In Stitch! The Movie, Pleakley gets caught on the phone with the New You Wonder Girdle Company. (girdles are marketed as shapeware for women in the U.S, and the name winks at older audiences with it's reference to Wonderbra). Pleakley becomes flustered and unconvincingly denies having ordered a girdle (since it's an undergarment for women... why would he need that for his disguise). This movie also shows a conversation between Nani and David, in which Nani confides that she believes Pleakley has been secretly trying on her clothing (he has).

Pleakley is presented as effeminate in a way that can easily be read as queer, similar to the "sissy*" coded characters that have shown up since early Hollywood days (Who's a Sissy? homosexuality according to Tinseltown). *But thankfully Pleakley is not considered a joke because of his nature, jokes tend to have the punchline about his enthusiastic misunderstandings of human culture. He is also into fashion and in an alternate timeline episode is shown as being a very flamboyant world famous fashion designer (Season 2, Episode 6).

Pleakley sitting on Gantu's lap, throwing shade.
Pleakley clearly enjoys his disguise, and enjoys playing the part of wife to Jumba.

In Season 1, Episode 25, Nani, Lilo's older sister and guardian, is applying to a job at a rental supply shop. She ends up hosting her potential boss, Jameson, for dinner in order to show her aloha hospitality. The cousin of the episode is Nosy, a gossip who likes to tell everyone's secrets.

Trend setting Pleakley serving Bulletproof Coffee, before it was even invented.
Nani introduces Jameson to her family, including her Aunt Pleakley and Uncle Jumba. Pleakley is excited to get to try out his hosting skills. Predictably things go poorly, ending with Nosy revealing everyone's secrets. Nosy loudly proclaims that "Aunt" Pleakley is not a woman. Pleakley runs into the house upset, leaving everyone else to sit outside awkwardly. Jameson ends up offering Nani the job based on the fact that she must be a caring person to have such a diverse makeshift family.

Keoni, Jameson's son, talks to Lilo about Pleakley not being a woman, and then shrugs the whole thing off as not a big deal. However Pleakley personally identifies within the show, Keoni and his father would be left to naturally conclude that Pleakley is trans (or somewhere on the spectrum) and is in a relationship with Jumba, and everyone is fine with this.


Jumba is more emotionally distant then Pleakley. Unlike Pleakley he has female love interests mentioned (well, two). He had a wife he divorced at some point before the franchise started. In an alternate timeline episode he mentioned having made himself a robot wife (Season 1, Episode 34), but this is also the timeline in which something terrible happened to Pleakley that Jumba won't talk about. Alternate timeline Jumba gives regular Jumba the advice to never built a robot wife, so presumably this doesn't ever happen in the real timeline.

Jumba and Pleakley's room (Jumba has top bunk)
His friendship with Pleakley is domestic, but at times dysfunctional. Jumba and Pleakley live together in a shared room, but sleep on bunk beds. In only one episode are they shown to have shared a bed (Season 1, Episode 8), when on vacation in a shared room with Lilo and Stitch. Pleakley does things like bringing Jumba his favorite meal when he is having a bad day (Season 1, Episode 19), but in this same episode Jumba threatens Pleakley if he tells Lilo or Stitch that he has created a new evil experiment.

Jumba takes pride in being an evil genius and, particularly at the start of the series, this can cause tension in his friendship with Pleakley.

Jumba and Pleakley-

In the first film they are forced together, and share a mutual dislike, bound together by circumstance.  Their overarching character development though the franchise is about their friendship, and building of an ohana (together).

In Season 1, Episode 14 we are introduced to Pleakley's family.

Lilo is woken up by Pleakley's phone going off in the middle of the night. Jumba explains that it is Pleakley's mother calling to try and pressure her son to find a wife.

Lilo is surprised, “A wife? Like a lady to marry?

Pleakley replies, “No.No. No. There will be no wife. NO LADY. And no marrying.” 'No lady' is said at a louder volume, and Pleakley pulls off his sleeping mask to emphasize this line, before snapping it back on and saying 'no marrying', in a less angry tone. “My earth studies are my life. I don’t have time for a relationship.” 

This entire episode reads, to use the fandom term, very slashy. But it is exchanges like this which are very interesting. Pleakley's emphasis on not wanting to marry a lady, and specifying the gender neutral "relationship" does give nods to a queer reading of this episode. This episode makes it clear that Pleakley's family wants him to always present male, and marry a woman. He doesn't want to.

Pleakley lies to his mother about already being engaged, and so his whole family shows up. He and Nani have a short lived fake engagement for his families sake, but when Nani finds out that their marriage will be legal, and that their vows would be eternal and galactically binding she bows out. Jumba takes her place, dressed as a woman. The marriage ceremony is interrupted just before they are pronounced man and (wife). Instead of being glad that he was saved from a legally binding marriage, Jumba yells, "You are interrupting climax of earth ceremony."

Leroy and Stitch concludes the series, tying up loose ends and finishing characters arcs. All of the cousins have been found, and in reward the Galactic Council gives Jumba back the key to his evil lab, and Pleakley is granted a position at a galactic community collage as a professor in Earth research. Lilo realizes that it would be selfish to ask her friends to continue to live with her family, and so she encourages them to pursue their dreams.So, Jumba, Pleakley, and Stitch all leave earth.

Back at his evil lab, Jumba creates an exploding saliva solution, and excitedly calls out to Pleakley to show him, only to remember that Pleakley isn't there. He then puts on a record (that Lilo gave him), that plays "I'm So Lonely I Could Cry" by Elvis Presley. A sad a montage of all the characters being lonely follows.

Later it cuts to Pleakley in his new office. He has two things on this desk, a framed photo of Jumba, and an earth rock that Lilo gifted him. Pleakley calls Jumba, bursting out with how much he misses him, and how he wants to see him. Jumba is pleased that Pleakley called, but doesn't want to continue the conversation because the evil Hamsterviel is in his lab. We then get this exchange:

Pleakley: "But don't you miss your Aunt Pleakley?"

Jumba (under duress from Hamsterviel, to hang up): "No."

Pleakley: "I'm wearing the wig."

Jumba: "No. Not coming back. Never coming back. Never wanting seeing you again."

Pleakley: "Yeah? Well, me neither. What I mean when I said: I miss you so much, can I visit? Was: I don't miss you at all, and I never ever wanna see you ever again, either."

Pleakley hangs up the phone and begins crying hysterically. Jumba is equally upset that Hamsterviel forced him to hurt Pleakley.

After apparently crying it out, the next thing Pleakley does is to fly to Jumba's lab. Unfortunately he shows up mid epic battle between Stitch and the baddies (which results in all the good guys being captured). Pleakley explains to Jumba that he just wanted to make up. To which Jumba affectionately replies, "Next time send flowers."

The movie ends with Jumba and Pleakley choosing each other as their ohana, and deciding to go back to Earth with Lilo and Stitch.

As I mentioned in part 1, there is no way to guarantee what the intent was by the creators behind all the elements of the franchise. Still, it seems unlikely that the consistent characterization of Jumba and Pleakley's relationship could have been written so carefully with no one involved realizing the possibility of a gay reading (particularly since so many jokes seem to rely on this second reading of the characters). To quote my favorite line of Provenzano when he described this type of ambiguity in Ren and Stimpy (Advocate, 1994, pg 56-58), Pleakley and Jumba are at the very least "Not NOT gay." 

1)"Evidence for Fibber" and "Stitch! The Movie Evidence" by justbeus, 2003. 

Both these essays were helpful while researching double coding in the series, unfortunately they appear to no longer be available anywhere online. 

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