I’m nearly 30 and still believe in characters. Characters have been seen around the parks since inception. Luckily, their costumes have improved over the years or I may have a harder time believing that they’re real. Before you have me committed, listen to my reasoning.
“It all started with a mouse,” is one of the most popular phrases you hear or read about any Disney park. It, indeed, started with a mouse. And a man. Walt Disney wanted to create a place where the young and old could come together and age not matter. Imagination isn’t defined by an age, it’s something you can feel until you leave this world behind and explore a new one.
As adults now living in the real world, we’re often left behind while the young and young-minded carry about their fantasies and Peter Pan-esque ideals. And that’s the right of children. Children should always be allowed to explore alternate realms of fantasy and play. Walt once said that while he was drawing cartoons, his dad suggested he get a “real job.” And as adults, that’s where we’re conditioned to do. It’s not for no reason – most of us have families to provide for and bills to pay. Our imaginations are whittled away slowly, but also all at once, as childlike dreams are pushed through the door that’s inching away. It’s not the fault of anyone; it’s just part of growing up. But then, Walt gave us an outlet.
“I suppose it’s like the ticking crocodile, isn’t it? Time is chasing after all of us.”
― J.M. Barrie,
Walt believed Mickey Mouse was a distinct individual, and not just a cartoon mouse going through the motions.
I believe the characters walking around Walt Disney World are real, and not just Cast Members going through the motions.
As a kid, I very distinctly remember my first character interaction. It was during my first trip at Epcot. Belle and Beast were about to go on break, and we were walking past the International Gateway when I ran up to them. I had an autograph book, but the pen wouldn’t work, and my dad had to rush down to the store to exchange it before coming back so they could sign my book. I don’t remember what I said or if I even hugged them, but I remember the moment seeing them. That moment quite literally changed my life. It was like all that I was conditioned to think as a kid about growing up and questioning believing went out the window and magic really did exist somewhere. My favorite characters from an animated movie were standing right in front of me. They were real and they took the time out to make sure I believed that.
As years went on, the excitement I felt as a child started to disappear, because more time was spent in the Real World than my world made up of fantasy and pixie dust. I buried it, but when I’d walk into Epcot again, it reappeared like it had never left. The belief that exists when I walk through the gates cannot be replicated anywhere else in this world.
A lot has changed in the parks throughout the years, and even guest interaction is rushed along when lines pile up. Characters that were once abundant are now just a few favorites placed in specific locations throughout all four parks of Walt Disney World. Being that I’m nearly in my thirties, you’d think I’d get deterred from standing in the long lines, but I don’t. Seeing my favorite characters, even as an adult, can still take me back to those simpler times when the weight of life outside the gates didn’t exist.
It’s different now, though, because I have children and I get to experience the awe and wonder of them meeting their idols all over again through their eyes. The way my daughter’s eyes light up when she sees Elena of Avalor welcoming her into a hug with open arms or when my son gets licked and kissed on by Pluto while he giggles and squeals further proves to me that while they may be costumed, Cast Members aren’t going through motions. They’re creating life-long memories that stay with people well after they’ve left the park. For an hour during their meet-and-greet, they get to embody the characters that were created by animators and bring them to life. For that short time, they’re not “just” Cast Members; they’re princesses and cartoons come to life. Something as simple as a mouse that Walt created decades ago, despite being told otherwise, still resonates heavily in our lives and will for many lives after.