Published: February 8, 2013 at 1:55 PM
A few thoughts:
First rule for meeting characters in the park is: Never initiate physical contact with a theme park character. Character performers in covered-head suits might have a limited field of vision, and sometimes have limited mobility and a somewhat precarious balance. Always let them initiate the contact. If they put up a hand, you can give them a high-five. If they extend a arm to one side, you can move in for a side-by-side pose. If they hold both arms to their side and motion you in, it's okay to hug.
But the character always gets to decide what physical contact to have. You have no idea what it's like in that suit. Some suits enable performers to get more active with guests than others do. Maybe the character performer just cramped up after stooping over for so many hugs with little kids, and has to just go with high-fives and stand-up poses for the remainder of his/her stint. Who knows?
Approach a character with a friendly attitude -- wearing a smile and greeting the character by name. Don't rush the character. Just step forward from the line when it's your turn and wait for the character to direct you to come closer. Even though the character can't talk back (the elusive "Talking Mickey" notwithstanding), don't be shy about verbal interaction. Every performer I've ever met loves grateful, friendly guests who know to stay in the character's field of vision and to respect the character's space.
That said, if you feel like you were treated badly or unfairly during any encounter with any cast or team member at a theme park, you have every right to complain. You should note the exact time of the incident, the exact location, and the name of the person about whom you wish to complain. Complaining about "the guy playing Mickey Mouse around 2 o'clock" won't help anyone. Different performers come and go playing the same character in the same location, often for just a few minutes at a time. A performer switch easily can explain widely different behavior by a character. Experience and physical health go a long way in how you play a character.
In my experience, theme parks take guest complaints seriously, and will follow up. Cast and team members do get fired as the result of verified complaints. Even if the guest's complaint turned out to be inaccurate, employees get reprimanded for failing to handle the situation in a way that would have prevented the guest from complaining. And even if an employee was completely not at fault in an incident, a park might still offer compensation to a guest who felt bad/angry/frustrated, simply because the park knows the cost of bad publicity from a frustrated customer and wants to prevent that.
Now, to the subject of lawsuits. Anyone has a right to sue over anything, and -- contrary to what you might have heard -- the court system generally does an excellent job of determining which suits have merit and which don't. If a case sounds fishy, the odds are overwhelming that a defendant's lawyers and a jury will feel the same way if that turns out to be the case. And if you want to ensure that the system works the right way, then be sure to show up for jury duty the next time you're called!
Theme parks are very good at math. They investigate claims and have a strong sense of what a court might find their liability to be. Even when they believe they won't be held liable at all, they know the costs associated with allowing the case to get to the point where a jury rejects the claim. So they do the math, and offer the would-be plaintiff a sum a bit less than the amount the company thinks it'd have to pay by going to court.
If the plaintiff was going to get nothing by going to the jury, hey, they get free money this way. But that still saves the company money over letting the case get to that point. So, in general, you've got two types of people who actually go to court -- (1) those whose claims are so solid that they are certain of winning and don't wish to be bound by a non-disclosure agreement in accepting a settlement, and (2) those who are so clueless as to believe that they're in group (1).
I find it frustrating in cases such as these that we hear about the suit being filed, but almost never hear the result, especially in cases involving people in group (2). They never want to tell anyone they lost, and the company doesn't want to remind anyone about an unpleasant incident. That leaves it to reporters to track the case to completion, and frankly, I've worked the courts beat before. Keeping track over cases over months and years in a pain in the rear, especially for relatively minor incidents such as feeling snubbed at a character meet and greet.