Collared

by David Koenig, staff writer
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Disneyland's furry "friends of Mickey" are up in arms about a major change to the department slated to be formalized within the coming months.

Although Disney denies the report, the park's atmosphere characters, once known as "walkarounds," are reportedly about to be prohibited from walking around. Instead, every character will be confined to a precise location, making it easier for a Disney's PhotoPass photographer to capture the marketable moment on camera.

Certainly, Disney parks have been impeding the character's freedom and mobility for, literally, decades. But it originated from more noble motives. Through the 1980s, the top guest complaint was that visitors couldn't find Mickey or their other favorite character. And that, even if they could find the mouse, he was mobbed with fans and difficult to reach. So the parks began restricting Mickey and a few other favorites to certain spots, like the northeast corner of Town Square, and setting up increasingly organized queues to meet him. Those evolved into permanent meet-and-greet stations, such as Mickey's Movie Barn in Toontown.

Organization, however, had its price. Lost was the excitement of, while walking through the park, unexpectedly coming across a favorite character. And the interactions themselves became more perfunctory; the characters were no longer your huggable pals, but now celebrities—roped off and busily scribbling an autograph for the next in line. You still had walkarounds, but they were fewer.

But the biggest changes started in late 2009, after Disneyland merged its PhotoPass and Entertainment departments. Management held a department-wide meeting in August 2009 to announce the merger and gush over all the opportunities there would be for the two divisions to work together even more closely. The cast members quickly put two and two together.

As one employee told me just after the meeting, "The motivation is money. Characters + Photopass = Money. What is now being discussed by their upper management is the elimination of the 'atmosphere characters.' Those are the characters that guests can see roaming the park. That means, if management gets their wish, the only way you can see a character is at a PhotoPass location like Pixie Hollow or at a restaurant like Goofy's Kitchen."

As another character commented, "It wasn't so much a merging, as PhotoPass more or less swallowed Entertainment and now has considerable control over that department. PhotoPass's primary concern is profit via the photo packages sold online and on Main Street. All they want characters to do is stay in one place, sign autograph books, and have photos taken by the PhotoPass cast members."

Since then, the number of walkaround characters has been drastically reduced. Nowadays, the only true roaming characters are Peter Pan and Snow White's Evil Queen in Fantasyland—and they usually appear on alternating days. There are a few others, but they're restricted to a general area, such as the Mad Hatter and Alice meandering around the Mad Tea Party.

In addition, the character continued, management's "desire for profit led to a recent ban that chipped some of the magic away from the park. You used to see characters on the open-air attractions from time to time. Hatter/Alice rode Storybook [Land Canal Boats] almost daily, and Mary Poppins was often seen riding Jingles (the lead horse on the King Arthur Carrousel) side-saddle as only a proper lady should. This created a unique moment of undiluted Disney magic for the families who experienced the attraction with them. Nothing could surpass watching your star-eyed little girl riding alongside Ms. Poppins on the carousel! The interaction between characters and children has always been the heartbeat of the park, the quintessential Disney moment. Obstructing that is nothing short of a crime.

"Well, you no longer see characters on the attractions, because the PhotoPass superiors have banned it. Their reason is simple: the 12 minutes that Mary Poppins spends on Jingles with delighted kids riding alongside could be spent gaining profit via PhotoPass. That's 12 minutes of missed (possible) photo sales. Oh no! Can't have that! The same goes for any character who 'wastes time' on an attraction. So, yes, PhotoPass enacted a policy that bans characters from wasting profitable photo time to make a special memory for a few lucky guests."

"That was heartbreaking enough for all concerned (save PhotoPass managers, I suppose), but it's about to get worse. PhotoPass management has set their sights on all character interactions that do not have the characters stand around and take photos with a PhotoPass photographer handy. Musical chairs and charades with Hatter and Alice, storytime with the princesses, those lovely impromtu games of tag and duck-duck-goose—everything is set to be banned by PhotoPass management by the time the new Soundsational parade debuts. It's possible that they'll even go after the minor shows that involve characters outside of the parade and Fantasmic! PhotoPass wants characters who will do little more than stand in one place for photos, and they are well on their way to reaching that goal."

He said the majority of the character department is "disgusted, but mostly powerless" and predicts that "if this second ban becomes a reality, one can fully expect to see a very large portion of the hourly department cast members quit their jobs. PhotoPass knows this and does not care, because character cast members are 'as replaceable as Dixie cups.'"

Another character has resigned herself to the inevitable. She suspects the only ones who are upset are those who will be personally impacted—the handful of characters who love to roam around, but will now be restricted to a set location, under the watchful eye of a cameraman. She's equally confident, she says, that "nothing will change with princess storytime at Princess Fantasy Faire. They are in a controlled environment, which management loves."

Personally, I disagree. I think me, my children, and thousands of other guests will also be personally impacted. Remaining opportunities to interact with characters personally and casually in a non-staged environment are precious few. Disneyland needs its guests to be able to share an adventure with the characters—not just to pose with them

So I'd suggest that if you, dear reader, have previously enjoyed or in the near future find yourself enjoying an spontaneous, unforgettable experience with a walkaround character, let management know about it. Your voices are the reason why Jack Skellington and Sally continue to make annual appearances by the fountain in New Orleans Square.

The characters may have to take this change sitting down. We don't.

[Editor's note: This article was revised January 24, 2011 to include Disney's denial in the second paragraph, and a correction from the Queen of Hearts to Snow White's Evil Queen in the eighth.]

Comments

  1. By oregontraveler

    As Yosemite Sam would say, "that really burns my britches"

    Did they hire Cynthia Harris to run the PhotoPass Dept.? Because this drive to wring every last cent from the consumer is just too much.

  2. By Disneyvious

    Is this dealing with both Atmosphere Characters and Face Characters? As stated in the first line of the article, an atmosphere character is a furry friend of Mickey's. The article does also talk about musical chairs leaving, but if this only deals with atmosphere characters then I don't see why musical chairs would leave.

  3. By ChrisGlass

    Giving characters free movement is what makes it so exciting. Just standing in place taking photos kills that. You make more lasting memories with interactions, not a basic meet & greet.

    This is absurd.

  4. By Mousejunkie Adam

    Will this new policy apply to the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World, too?

  5. By carolinakid

    As one who doesn't take/purchase photos, I'll certainly miss the ability to just "run into" a character walking about. This really sucks...

  6. By danyoung

    I have to say that while I'm not wild about this new policy, personally it doesn't affect me too much. I'd say that the times that I've ever seen a character outside of an autograph signing could be counted on one hand. Still, it does seem as if some of the fun spontaneity is being regimented out of the park in favor of financial gain, and that ain't cool.

  7. By disneyland255

    danyoung - I think the reason you can count on 1 hand is because the PhotoPass people have cut back on how often you see characters. I've noticed a decline in recent years in seeing them just roam.

    I personally miss this because our daughter gets so excited when we're just walking through the park and BAM! There's the Beast, or Mickey, just roaming. It's too sad something like this is happening, it really is just for money.

    Also, every time we've done Photopass, none of the pictures turn out that great. They are so quick to get the picture and move on to the next family. Our own personal pictures turn out SO much better!

  8. By meeanne

    I enjoy seeing the characters wandering around, greeting ppl in line and passersby, it's what gives me that happy feeling of being there in disneyland. Even though I'm in my 20s and I know that's just someone in costume, the kid in me apparently isn't aware of that and just snaps and i get giddy and excited to see them there. Just a couple years ago I was so amused by the sight of Pluto, Goofy, and Gipetto getting into Autopia cars to take a spin.
    It was a wonderful memory and I love telling that story to younger relatives who are visiting, it adds to the magic of the place and it gives them hope that they can see their favorite character do something extraordinary from what they've seen them do on tv or in movies, they get to witness their favorite characters in real-life doing something they've done (like riding the autopia cars). But how can any of this happen if the characters can no longer wander freely?

    I'm wondering if there are many people who feel the same way I do?
    If you do, we've gotta try to reach management and let them no the public want the characters.
    If you or someone you know is going to the parks, tell them to speak to someone about this and let's make it known that we want our characters to be free. Not chained to one spot. Imagine being that character and now allowed to do anything, just standing there in one place, not able to play around with kids or put a smile on an on suspecting face when they're surprised to see you there. Wouldn't it drive you a little mad?
    So let's do this for that person in that costume and for us, free the characters and remind disney to let THOSE MEMORIES BEGIN!
    Restricting the characters to one location, limits those memories we could be making!

    Disney's promotion: Let the memories begin.
    Yes Disney! Those characters strolling around the park are a part of those memories! Don't take them away from us!

  9. By hdlzx2

    Would someone please post a link, (direct or not), or address that will make it an easy access to the managment we are best supposed to contact about this? I do believe we could create a crusade!
    Easier access means more response!

  10. By David Koenig

    Disneyland's Guest Relations can be reached at
    DLResort@disneyonline.com

    but if anyone has a direct line to Mr. Kalogridis, so much the better!

  11. By djthereplay

    Quote Originally Posted by Mousejunkie Adam View Post
    Will this new policy apply to the Magic Kingdom and Walt Disney World, too?

    Hello Mousejunkie Adam !,
    The last time I checked, much over visited, pretty much This is ALREADY
    life as a Character at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
    It upsets me that this kind of treatment is coming to the characters at Disneyland. I`m sorry. There is a such thing as Organization, and there is a such thing as TOO MUCH ORGANIZATION .... More like Slavery.
    It amazes me how The PhotoPass Photographers are treating these Characters almost like a light version of slaves.
    And Offhand, It's a good thing for PhotoPass that Disneyland has A Memories Projection Show, and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom has a Projection Show. Do you know why?, Because You can have them use YOUR OWN Camera to take the Photos, and You will have Photos from Your Disney Vacation Reguardless. Also, Another thing in your favor ..... Disneyland and Walt Disney World has the good ole`Scrapbooking materials.
    If this about profit, You can still throw it back in Disney's PhotoPass`Face.
    Personally, If It were not for these special events and promotions at The Disney Parks, I would have these Photographers working for ..... FREE !!!
    With making them use your camera?, The ONLY Way that you would have to pay is by uploading your photos from Your Disney Vacation to Your PhotoPass Account, and Adding the special borders to your photos, and saving them to a PhotoPass Personal Archive Cd for $19.95, Or Have Disney's PhotoPass Photographers use their Cameras to take pictures of Your Disney Vacation and Your Photos will be transferred to the PhotoPass Card, and you put in the code on the back of your photopass card on your photopass account to pull up your Professional Disney Vacation Photos, and Put the Specially made Borders on them and then save them to Disney's PhotoPass PhotoCD for $149.95 ....
    at the most, without the discoount. And, outside of that, for the photo packages? The Photos that you recieve like at Character Dining where you would Take a picture with Cinderella before Your Enter Cinderella's Royal Table DON`T EVEN HAVE THE BORDERS. They just have the code on one of the pictures for you to pull up ALL of Your Photos That they took from that moment on Your PhotoPass Account and repeat what I said about adding the borders and putting them on a Photopass PhotoCD.
    And Since Disney will ALREADY Have a copy of Your Photos that a taken By Disney's PhotoPass Photographers`OWN PROFESSIONAL CAMERAS,
    If you are so lucky, at least one of Your Photos could be chosen to be used in their Memories Projection Show that Is NOW RUNNING On the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park in Florida that will very soon start running on the Outer Facade of " it's a small world " at Disneyland Park in California as well before this month is over.
    But as I said, Bring Your OWN Camera and Buy the Scrapbooks.
    Have these Disney PhotoPass Photographers working for FREE !!!!
    Try it, and then tell them about the Magic of " Atmosphere Characters at The Disney Parks. I BET YOU IT WILL BE CRAZY ENOUGH TO WORK.
    BTW, This is my FIRST TIME EVER posting on here on these forums.
    And I felt that your question deserved My First post.
    Thank you for reading my post.
    - Dwight

  12. By danyoung

    Quote Originally Posted by disneyland255 View Post
    danyoung - I think the reason you can count on 1 hand is because the PhotoPass people have cut back on how often you see characters. I've noticed a decline in recent years in seeing them just roam.

    No, I've been visiting DL since the early 60's, so my experience was over all of that time. But I do understand how people are having a big problem with this decision. I'm just saying that it doesn't affect me personally very much, if any at all.

  13. By buzzzz

    I remember about five years ago my kids were treated to an impromptu show by Alice and the Mad Hatter. We bumped into them near the Matterhorn, and they joked and goofed around with each other, even using a water fountain to splash each other playfully.

    While my kids are older and no longer care too much about characters, I would hate for other people to be denied such fun random encounters. I think Disney Corp (unlike Walt) doesn't understand that the ambiance - including wandering characters -brings people back, which in turn generates more revenue for them.

    If they keep up this trend, someday they'll just be another Six Flags park.

  14. By houseofmouse

    This past December I had the pleasure of a chance encounter with Peter Pan.
    He was on the path between the castle and Frontierland laying on the rocks, eyes closed sunning himself and smiling. As a 38 yr old adult, I found this totally cool! I did not "wake" him or bother him but took it as a magical moment for myself.
    After grabbing fastpasses at Indy and heading back to the Castle to meet up with family, he was then awake and interacting with two very small girls. So sweet. This encounter would not have happened had he been designated to a spot.

  15. By Drince88

    Personally, I'd rather they had character hosts for more characters, and not worry so much about photo pass photographers. Face characters it's not as big of a deal - but for the non-faces, it's really hard for them to get people to form a line or such (if that's what the situation calls for) without a handler. I think it was at DL with Tigger in front of City Hall last spring this was a real issue, and Tigger was getting frustrated. Fortunately, most of the guests were doing a decent job of taking turns and such, so it wasn't getting to dangerous or confrontational.

  16. By DezineWiz

    Ultimately, it will be the guest's decision as to what happens. Having worked in the theme park industry, and varying themed attractions that are not the parks, I can safely say that the guests run the show.

    So, if management gets their way, hurray, hurrah - for the moment.

    If the guests like the change, then it will stay.

    If not, and ESPECIALLY if it starts to impact the theme park's profits in some way, than it will change faster than Tinker Bell's wand makes magic.

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