I was told the truth about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy at the earliest age. I not only knew they were fake, but I was smugly satisfied to be the only kid not duped in my kindergarten class. As superior as I felt, though, I wished I could believe. It’s awfully depressing to be dumped into the real world from birth instead of getting a few years of a fantasy cushion. My life wasn’t entirely without magic; I continue(d) to believe in time travel, ESP, and alternate dimensions. But those are cold comforts next to Santa’s warm lap.
The magic of a Disney park is the immersion in an alternate reality. Disney creates a flawless experience of being on Main Street, U.S.A. or in glamorous old Hollywood or on an African safari. The music, the food, the scenery, and the cast members are all in keeping with the chosen theme. I appreciate the attention to detail, but the skeptic in me resists the illusion. I’m perhaps most dismissive of the characters, whom I have always seen as grown-ups dressed up in silly costumes.
Children approach the characters with the delight of seeing a fantasy come to life. Mickey isn’t a girl in a hot stuffy costume. He’s MICKEY! Gaston is the muscle-head who will never marry Belle. The princesses are more exciting (and more real) than pop stars.
I chose “pose for a photo with Mickey Mouse” as one of my 40 B4 40 adventures because, before I officially become an old lady, I wanted to believe in a childhood character. On our January trip to Walt Disney World, I met and posed with at a dozen-ish characters and had various levels of success in suspending my disbelief.
I’m afraid the face characters were a total bust. I dined with the princesses and found that allowing the characters to talk ruins the illusion for me. Listening to grown adults pretending to be Belle, Aurora, Snow White, and Ariel natter on about books, dreams, woodland creatures, and dinglehoppers was an exercise in ridiculousness. I’ve seldom had a more awkward interaction than talking to a storybook princess. Each time one stopped at the table, I wanted to crawl underneath. We walked by Gaston, Mary Poppins, Jasmine, and Aladdin and choosing to not interact with them helped preserve the illusion, but there was still the inevitable comparison of the actor to the character that ruined things for me.
The costumed characters were less awkward to meet. I posed with Mickey (twice), Minnie, Goofy, and Daisy Duck. I excitedly greeted each by name, hugged, and posed for photos. I really tried to “believe,” but the tactile experience ruined the illusion. Feeling the human body beneath the costume and avoiding a blow from their hard plastic heads reminded me that I was posing with an actor, not a character.
My most successful experiences were with Duffy and Marie (the Aristocat). Both of these characters wear padded costumes covered in fake fur and are silent. They were like living stuffed animals. Duffy was my first character experience of the trip and, although I was no Duffy fan, delighted me with the experience of being “enveloped in Duffy.” It was all plush fur and warm hugs. I skipped away from the Duffy pavilion. Near the end of the trip, we spotted Marie. She was always my favorite Aristocat and I told her so. I said, “You’re the best cat because you’re white and French.” That probably came out all wrong, but she still hugged me and I totally believed I was snuggling a giant kitten. I couldn’t stop grinning as we continued our walk out of the Magic Kingdom.
There’s no regaining lost innocence, but I did my best to be the four year old I never was. As an adult, I need a little extra help in the form of a silent, extra padded character, but I found a little of that magic at Disney World. I’m a newly minted Duffy fan and I will swear up and down that I met the real Marie on Main Street, U.S.A.
Still, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy are for suckers.