Characters and mascots are an essential part of the theme park experience, particularly at Disney theme parks. In recent months, for example, we've seen guests queuing for up to five hours for the chance to meet Frozen's Anna and Elsa at Walt Disney World. As with any job, there are pros and cons to being a character. It can be hard for outsiders to find out what they are, though, since characters are rarely allowed to talk to the media. Disney is particularly strict on enforcing this gag. Of course, any Disney fan knows that the characters at the company's theme parks are, in fact, real. Us mere humans can only get jobs as friends with those characters. And, occasionally, those friends do speak out - such as these interviews with a former "friend with" Princesses, and a former "friend of" Captain Jack Sparrow. While writing Tales from the Towers, I had the pleasure of speaking with a former Henry Hound at Alton Towers. As Henry no longer appears at the park (presumably having been found out as a fraud), I can safely reveal that he was, in reality, a man inside a costume. What do those interviews reveal about life as a character? Let's take a look at some pros and cons.
Here are some of the worst aspects of being a character...
9. It can be very hot and sweaty
Inside the wide array of characters at Alton Towers that entertained guests at the park during Henry Hound's golden years were a group of around 20 to 30 young staff. Among them was Alistair Farrant, who landed a summer job at the park in the early 1990s through a friend. He recalls: "You just turned up each day and didn’t know what you were going to be doing. One day you might be Henry Hound, the next day you'd be a bear and the next day you'd be a pirate or something." What were the costumes like to wear? "Not that pleasant," recalls Farrant. "They were quite claustrophobic. You could only really see out of the little holes for the eyes, nose or mouth. They were hot and sweaty, and they weren’t cleaned that often. If you went out on a blazing hot summer’s day, you got pretty sweaty and horrible. You changed around a bit, so someone else might have been wearing the costume in the morning and you had to get into it in the afternoon."
8. Physical abuse from guests is common
There are many, many stories of characters being physically attacked by guests - even at Disney's family-friendly theme parks. Somehow, their fur and smiley expressions seem to make them a target. Farrant recalls: "Within reason, you could wander wherever you wanted. We used to go out in pairs, because you were only able to see so much and there were kids that would try and do things to you. I had people kicking me up the backside, they’d pull my tail, they’d try to pull my head off or smack me round the head. I once had a lit cigarette shoved into my costume's nose. I was dressed as a bear and it ended up dangling only an inch or so away from my actual nose, which was a bit scary."
7. You can be falsely accused of crimes
The inability of characters to talk and defend themselves means that they can often become targets of fraudsters who are hoping to file lucrative lawsuits against theme park operators. Disney, with its deep pockets, is frequently the target of such phony claims. There are many, many examples, but perhaps the best one is a 1976 case in which a woman claimed that one of the Three Little Pigs had run up to her, grabbed her chest and begun shouting "Mommy! Mommy!". Unfortunately for the allegedly distressed guest, her case didn't progress far. Disney quickly pointed out that the Three Little Pigs are unable to move their arms.
6. Aging could put you out of a job
In the entertainment business, aging is often bad news. Handsome actors and pretty actresses can quickly find work drying up as the years roll on. And the same is true of theme park characters. As the former friend of Disney princesses recalls: "Most [princesses] are between 18 and 23, and a few of the girls who have been there awhile are 25-27. Rarely is a girl over 27."