Published: February 8, 2013 at 1:55 PMA 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.
Published: February 8, 2013 at 3:40 PMI truly believe that this family felt like the costumed character either 1) turned their back on their children or 2) Seemed friendlier to another group of children.
Published: February 8, 2013 at 6:11 PMSince I wasn't there and didn't see what happened, it is hard to figure out. But the family is only looking for a public apology and the cast member to be terminated.
A second family just came forward with the same accusations.... perhaps Disney has some explaining to do. Get this.... their last name is White.
Published: February 8, 2013 at 6:56 PMAnd the second complaint is about Donald Duck (and that character happens to be the same color of the rabbit) Although it said the original complaint only listed a child being ignored.
That said, if more claims arise (whether legit or not), I expect Disney will act very soon....
Published: February 8, 2013 at 10:26 PMI guess the story is possible. But seriously, is it probable that there is a character actor who actually hates black people? And somehow they made it through the Disney hiring process? And their handlers never once noticed the character avoiding black kids before? And no other black family ever noticed this and complained?
As for the "2nd complaint", maybe it is true; but it should be clear that there are a lot of people who would lie to get free tickets, or a shot at a bigger prize. And people don't file lawsuits "just to get an apology" -- what lawyer would sign up for a no-money lawsuit either?
If there is really a character who won't touch black kids, they should be fired. But why would such a person even take a job like this?
If there were complaints already on file against the character, I'd have to think Disney would have fired them already; and certainly would have fired them when this family complained.
Sadly, there are more than a few people who go around setting up incidents like this, in order to file lawsuits and make big money. If you have friends who are waiters at a restaurant, ask them about it -- restaurants are a favorite target.
Published: February 9, 2013 at 6:29 AMThanks Robert for your extensive comments on this subject. Your hands on experience with Cast Members and costumed characters sheds a lot of light on the subject. Just to be clear, my post isn't suggesting the Black family's assetions are true or false. I just thought this (and the more recent, second complaint) was a topic worthy of discussion.
Published: February 9, 2013 at 6:26 AMThis whole situation reeks of people looking to find racism where there is no racism.
I can tell you of many times castmember friends of mine would run into situations where guests of the park would find a way to get offended by the most innocuous of things. From the perception that they were the only person NOT greeted as they came onto the ride (it must be because they were Hispanic)or that girl who plays Princess Tiana barely spent two seconds with my daughter when she spent a whole minute with that other girl (it must because we're white and those kids were black).
Obviously, none of us were there when this particular situation happened, but it just kind of smells fishy.
Published: February 9, 2013 at 8:50 AMWhile aware of the situation, I haven't followed this story TOO closely, but I have noticed there's been no report (that I'm aware of) concerning the behavior of the children. These kids - and their parents too, for that matter - might have been hounding and bothering and teasing the character to such an extent the character finally lost patience and hoped by ignoring them they would leave him/her alone. While maybe not 100% Disney behavior, that's certainly understandable human behavior and the problem, if there is one, isn't with the cast member but with the parents who don't control their children.
Also, where was the non-character cast member character attendant who should be watching for these things??
Published: February 9, 2013 at 10:20 AMExcellent response Robert!
I find this story a little odd and something I would think would be pretty hard to prove.
Published: February 10, 2013 at 11:14 AMOn one hand, my knee jerk reaction is to simply dismiss this out of hand... I mean its Disney, even if someone who works there has some sort of prejudice, they wouldn't really be able to express it, right? The mouse is always supposed to be watching, right? Its just our runaway legal system gone mad, with someone looking for a quick payday, right?
However, noone seems to be reporting a number that the family wants... beyond an apology and dismissal of the Cast Member... Personally I take issues with customers demanding staff members being dismissed anywhere, but that's just me.
Presuming the reason noones mentioned money is because they don't want any... then all of a sudden the claims start to seem plausable and reasonable..
Either the Lawyer is a master of PR (in which case, Disney hire the guy), or theres something to this (even if it is just a simple misunderstanding).