Will Talking Mickey change the way people react to theme park characters?
Published: August 22, 2011 at 12:13 PM
Talking Mickey shared the stage with Disney Parks Chairman Tom Staggs during the Disney Parks presentation on Friday, then made appearances on the show floor on Saturday. Here's a look at Mickey's banter with Staggs:
Talking Mickey's certainly convincing, with mouth movement in synch with his speech and eye blinks that reinforce the illusion of liveliness. But adding speech to Mickey's repertoire fundamentally changes the way that this icon interacts with his audience.
Without speech, Mickey relies on elaborate pantomime to communicate. But if Mickey's to become a full-time talking character, he won't be able to move and gesticulate in exactly the same way. It'd be too much. A talking Mickey has to tone down his movements to avoid coming across as Manic Mouse instead.
In the presentation with Staggs, I though Mickey was trying to find a balance - reacting with mime while Staggs was talking, then calming his movements a touch when he spoke. After all, the current Talking Mickey isn't always taking. He uses speech as a change of pace, an attention-grabbing interlude to his physical communication.
I couldn't help comparing this Talking Mickey with the (silent) Mickey we met in Orlando last month. We visited the new Town Square meet and greet in the Magic Kingdom, where Mickey and Minnie greeted us in their green room. Minnie spied the "Happy Anniversary" buttons that my sister and her husband were wearing, and moved in. She grabbed my sister by the wrist of her left hand, then dragged her over to Mickey. (My sister willingly played along.) Minnie pulled my sister's left hand up toward Mickey's face, pointing to the diamond ring on my sister's finger. She seemed to glare at Mickey, tapping her foot in apparent frustration, as Mickey shrank, took two steps back and shrugged his shoulders.
It was brilliant mime acting. And completely hilarious.
But how does that scene play with Mickey being able to speak?
Obviously, it wouldn't be fair to have a talking Mickey appear with a non-talking Minnie, or other characters who aren't officially mute. We'd lose the fun of such scenes if Mickey were greeting us alone. But if Mickey and Minnie both could speak, how would the meeting have changed? Would the characters have been as physically engaged with us? If they'd tried, would we have let them?
Would little children find a talking Disney character more intimidating, and potentially frightening, or less?
I don't know. All I know is that speech changes the social dynamic between a theme park character and the guests he's meeting. I'd love to hear what you think about this, and especially to hear from anyone who has played a character in a theme park. I think it's fascinating to think about how guests (especially little kids) will change their reactions in response to a talking theme park character.