Stage actors are trained to completely transform into their respective characters and be emotionally present night after night.
Unlike film actors, theatrical performers have the added pressure of having only one shot to pull off their storytelling without any flubbing of lines... or other mishaps.
Those who work as characters at Disney parks are faced with a unique challenge.
Because the Disney characters, or cast members, interact with park guests–there is no separation between talent and audience that theaters provide.
A successful character meet and greet largely depends on the improv skills of the actor and how they respond to many unpredictable situations while remaining in character.
This applies specifically to face characters, the actors who portray human characters from a Disney animated film, including heroines and princesses like Rapunzel, and Snow White; and villains like Maleficent and Gaston.
But while there is no scripted dialogue, it doesn't mean they never break character.
Curious to hear anecdotes from those who were a part of the magic, Redditor HesSoZazzy asked:
"Disney theme park characters - have there been situations where you had to break character? What was the reason? Consequences?"
Sometimes, guests can get a little too handsy.
"I auditioned to be a face character and Disneyland and made it to the stage where they run through scenarios of unruly guests, rude comments etc. and you have to respond and come up with responses in character."
"My dance teacher was a face more than 20 years ago and she had all kinds of stories of people trying to reach up her skirt (she was Pocahontas mainly). In the end I'm glad I didn't make it through! At the time it was like barely above min wage which was like $6.75/hour or something like that."
The Loin King
"Maybe someone who actually played Tarzan can confirm this for me;"
"Disneyland used to have a Tarzan character, but you don't see him anymore. Since the characters are always expected to pose for photos and selfies, and Tarzan wore nothing but a loin cloth; woman were constantly grabbing the actor's butt, when they got in close."
"So, the park just quit that character."
"Update: After some confirmation of the bad behavior, there are still recent Tarzan sightings. It appears Disney paused the character and re-designed his loin-cloth costume into one more like a pair of shorts and a 'jungle-vine' sash. Apparently, women are still 'grabby' but the costume department tried to make it a little less easy."
These specific interactions have a left lasting impressions.
Enchanted By A Child
"Saw a recent video on youtube of a Rey talking to this little girl and her dad had just started filming. Apparently the story the little girl was telling got Rey laughing so hard, she had to turn her face away and eventually got up and ran away because she couldn't stop laughing at whatever the little girls story was."
"I was at Disneyland once and the Sheriff of Nottingham was fake-menacing a child. He reached out to touch the kid’s balloon and for some reason it popped. The character actor was clearly stunned. A new balloon appeared less than 30 seconds later."
"I remember being in Disneyland Paris when I was 9 and had just gotten a baby Simba plush which I brought to dinner in one of those character meeting restaurants where the characters come to your table. Most characters pretended to coo at and tickle Simba. Sheriff of Nottingham kidnapped Simba. I of course got him back. It just took a dramatic (fake) tug of war between Mr Incredible and Sheriff of Nottingham to do it. (Seriously, these guys were good)."
Here's Looking At Peter
"On a disney cruise I met a guy who looked EXACTLY like Peter pan. When we asked him he said 'nope peter pan has brown eyes' (or something like that) the next day when we went to get a picture with peter he got super close and whispered 'see? Peter has brown eyes.'"
"Hands down best Disney employee I've ever met (he was also Pluto)"
The One Exception
"When I was 6 or so, I went to Disney World with my mom and aunt and cousins. I really wanted Capt Hooks autograph, but per his character, he wasn't supposed to give it. I started crying over it, and my mom went and asked him again (nicely, I hope) and told him that I was very upset over it. He signed my book, even though he wasn't supposed to, and I always thought that was neat."
"So, to Capt Hook from 1989 or so, if you're out there - Thanks, and I hope you didn't get in trouble for that."
There are unfortunately scenarios that can result in pain or wet messes.
No Spatial Awareness
"Ex cast member here. While not a character myself, I did have to work the parade route from time to time, making sure kids didn't dart out in front of floats and such. 'Friends of characters' would often be playful with CMs along the parade route. Winking, making silly faces, etc. There was one day where Baloo came up to me mid-dance, and proceeded to bow to me. Baloo also happened to be wearing some sort of crown/hat thing with a star on the top. Baloo probably wasn't aware of how tall that actually made them.. Baloo managed to smack me right in the mouth with that star, cutting it open and giving me a fat lip. Fairly certain I heard Baloo audibly gasp when they stood upright again. Paws to mouth. Immediately stopped dancing. Just stared at me as I bled. They tried to grab my hands and pull me to them, but their handler came and ushered them along. Oops."
"I watched Jack Sparrow talking to a kid when the kid started puking everywhere. He said 'too much of the ol' apple juice eh? been there myself! even ran out once!'. All the while, the kid is just projectile vomiting everywhere."
"A bit late, but I did the College Program at WDW. Never saw a character break when I worked audience control for parades. Definitely saw a a few fully costumed characters puke in their heads, and Prince Naveen once got heat exhaustion and managed to leave the parade route fully in character. Once the parade was over, we saw him in the back almost completely passed out. Typically the parade will just speed up to double time if a character actor is in distress."
Pooh's Reaction To A Collision
"I wasn't a character but was a cast member. I was walking from backstage into the park. If you've seen the transitions, they are S shaped to keep people from peaking in."
"I was pushing a dolly/hand cart. The ones we used had 2 long supports sticking out from the end. As I was going though Winnie the Pooh was walking in from the other side. I hit him/her square in the leg with it. Hearing Winnie the Pooh say 'F'k!' was a pretty damn funny."
Personally having worked as a Disneyland entertainment cast member, I have to say, that my colleagues have maintained what's called, "good show," by staying dedicated to their characters.
Everyone in the Disney character department takes pride in their work and it shows onstage.
That being said, the backstage scene is a whole other story. As characters prepare to go out onstage, fully dressed in their respective costumes, I've seen some hilarious, but harmless, behavior.
But I won't share those here as many of them are NSFW.
Gotta maintain the magic, you know?