We have created characters and animated them in the dimension of depth, revealing through them to our perturbed world that the things we have in common far outnumber and outweigh those that divide us.
Walt said quite a few good things, but this one really captures something about why a job at Disneyland once meant so much.
Before Disneyland was what it is today, it’s my sense that the Disney characters served a different function in the Park. They were used as transmitters of ideas, as much or more than they were pushed into being vehicles for driving retail sales.
The simple ideas and ideals that Disneyland once stood unabashedly for were embodied in the entertainment Cast Members who helped bring Mickey, Donald, and the rest to life when they walked on stage. The character costumes were three-dimensional depictions of the intangibles that differentiated the Magic Kingdom from amusement parks.
“Physically, Disneyland would be a small world in itself," Walt said. But almost any major amusement park is such a thing. Disneyland also became a state of mind because, as Walt continued, it was designed to encompass “the essence of the things that were good and true in American life. It would reflect the faith and challenge of the future, the entertainment, the interest in intelligently presented facts, the stimulation of the imagination, the standards of health and achievement, and, above all, a sense of strength, contentment, and well-being.”
All of those things were there in Mickey’s white-gloved hands. The amazing thing was that even if you weren’t inside a character costume—maybe you wore, say, a bright yellow shirt/pant combo instead—you likewise embodied those ideals when you pinned on your nametag.
That was why I wanted to work at Disneyland. Not to operate an attraction, guide a tour, sweep up, scoop popcorn, or sell Mickey Mouse figurines in the Character Shop, but to join the characters as a goodwill ambassador to the land outside the berm. The job was a way of helping to create a very important thing in life.
After reading stuff like this, I’m pretty sure that being a Cast Member these days is just a job. That’s a shame. “Our perturbed world” needs characters a lot more than it needs cash cows.