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Robert's Rant: Should Disney Character Actors be Allowed to Identify Themselves?

June 6, 2015, 11:30 AM · You might have read one of the many stories hitting newspapers and TV stations in the past 24 hours about people who play characters in the Walt Disney theme parks. The union representing those actors has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] over alleged attempts by Disney to restrict the performers' ability to tell people which characters they portray.

Mickey Mouse

Here's the deal: Disney's character actors do wonderful work, and are justifiably proud of the work they do. Over the years, they've developed the convention of telling people that they are a "good friend of" whatever character they play, which effectively communicates to people in the know what they do, while preserving the magic for everyone else.

Everyone who cares about their jobs at Disney understands the importance of preserving that magic — the character actors especially so. No cast members I've spoken with have an issue with this.

So what's the problem? If Disney management wants its cast members to abide by a formal agreement — on this, or anything else — it needs to negotiate that agreement with its cast members. The union, essentially, is claiming that Disney is now trying to impose a work restriction that it didn't formally negotiate with its cast.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter if everyone in the cast was following the spirit of the rule anyway. If a rule is to be enforced, it needs to be written down and agreed to in advance. That way, everyone knows the specifics of the rule. It's one thing to say that you're a "good friend" of Mickey when posting a picture of the Big Cheese on your Instagram. But what happens when a Disney character actor goes on an audition for another role and is asked about his or her work at Disney? Negotiated rules make clear what you can and cannot do, so that no one gets surprised.

The issue here isn't cast members trying to spoil the magic. No one wants to do that. The issue is whether Disney's management is changing the rules without its cast members' consent. Whether it has or has not will be up to the NLRB to decide.

Replies (5)

June 6, 2015 at 12:24 PM · It typicle for Disney.
I wrote a story for the Donald Duck comic magazine in the Netherlands. Not the writer nor the artist who drew it will be seeing their name under their work. It's stated in the contract you sign.
You can Always ask for a reference of Disney to aknowlage your work so I think it's ok (for here) but not sue how that works for actors in the US Parks.
In the end there is only 1 name and that is Walt Disney.
June 6, 2015 at 4:12 PM · I love Disney, but I think it's stupid to impose this rule on the character actors.

First off, if they're just spilling the beans to an adult or teen who knows the truth, then why bother?

Second, even if you know who's behind the mask, that doesn't mean you can't have fun with it! I've known the characters were regular people for quite some time, and I still like to pretend otherwise! I especially liked the two girls who portrayed Ana and Elsa at Fantasyland when I went there! They captured their characters perfectly and it really was a joy seeing them interact with the kids.

Finally, those actors already have a hard enough time dealing with extremely bratty little kids and wear stuffy costumes in the hot Florida sun...why make their lives harder?

June 7, 2015 at 3:56 PM · I support Disney on this issue. Keep the Magic. There's only one Mickey Mouse, and no-one needs to say anything else.
June 7, 2015 at 5:25 PM · I think it is a tough area, but I feel that individuals can get really creative on describing their work on their resume. In fact, it might make them stick out more!

It not being an official rule before was kind of strange...

June 8, 2015 at 5:16 PM · No!! Part of the "Disney Magic" is making the characters REAL. It's one thing to put it in a private job application, but a whole different ballgame to declare it publicly where a child might see it! What on earth do the people of this country have against the innocence of a child that they insist on exposing children to smut and filthy / derogatory song lyrics etc ?

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