Friday, August 12, 2011

Character Creepings

I need to start off this entry with a bit of an apology. I know that I have already told you guys that my two big summer movies are Winnie the Pooh and The Help. Just as I did With Winnie the Pooh, I had intended to blog my thoughts on The Help, which is co-produced by Disney owned Touchstone Pictures, today, right after its release date, which was Wednesday. A few factors are going to push that blog entry back to next Friday.

AMC mini marquee poster fail. We're actually here
to see The Help and not A Little Help, but nice try.

I did in fact go see The Help at 12.01am on August 10th- the day that it came out. I had been waiting for what seemed like years for this day to arrive and, after a bit of eyelash batting, Tom agreed to go with me at midnight rather than fight whatever opening crowds may emerge the next night. (Suck on that, getting eight hours of sleep! Who needs you?) The screening ended up not being the most conducive environment for fully engaging with the movie owing to a possibly homeless dude with a mullet and a tank top who plopped down in the front and center of the theater and proceeded to snore like a hibernating bear from five minutes into the movie until the end credits had almost finished. 
This guy was making noise like a thunderstorm. I half expected lightning bolts to shoot out of his seat. A lot of people in the audience were, understandably, cracking up, and everyone else was distracted. Only twice was there was a brief respite. Once when Tom got fed up and finally went down to the front, found the guy's seat and slammed his hand on the back of it to wake him up and again when I left the theater to find an employee to help. After wandering for five minutes in the middle of the movie and finding only one lady on the floor, who incidentally didn't speak a lick of English and just smiled and nodded at me, I finally tracked down two NYPD paid detail. They came in, shined their flashlight on the guy and woke him up. Both times Snoreface McGee was up to his old tricks within minutes. I was upset, but stuck around to get passes so that we can go back and see the film (hopefully) uninterrupted.

The second factor is that I am almost done reading the book a second time. I started a little while back hoping to finish before I saw the movie. That didn't quite work out, but I'm almost there and would like to have the re-read under my belt before I give a critique, because I loved the book so much that the comparison will inevitably figure heavily into my opinion.

I have grown to really adore this poster.
It's like a burst of sunshine.

The third and final reason for my delay is the controversy surrounding the film, which was there on a smaller scale surrounding the book's release, dealing with the depiction of the African-American characters. It came onto my radar because one of my favorite political pundits, Melissa Harris-Perry, who shows up often on my beloved Rachel Maddow Show, went on an all out Twitter tirade against The Help. She then appeared on The Lawrence O'Donnell Show to discuss her thoughts further. I started feeling ultra-protective of the book, the movie, and my right to appreciate them without feeling like a racist.

I know that the subject matter is extremely sensitive, but feeling like I am standing at the opposite end of the spectrum from someone I've always really respected ideologically got my brain churning something fierce. Even as I type, it is taking me everything that I've got not to just let go and spew all of my thoughts, but, with your kind permission, I would like to take a week to let things marinate, finish the book and see the movie one more time.

Without hesitation, I encourage you to go see the film and/or read the book for yourself. The movie is not perfect by any stretch but the performances are stellar across the board and well worth the price of a movie ticket. And yes, I know how expensive they are these days. After you see it, most importantly, keep the discussion flowing. Do not shut people down who feel differently about what is being portrayed or the artistic integrity of the whole endeavor. I think part of the real value of these works is their power to make you consider people and events in ways that you maybe hadn't done before. It did that for me and that is what powerful art can and should do. The Help has the power to create a dialogue. For heaven's sake, please take advantage of that opportunity. As you can imagine, I will have a lot to say next Friday.

Until then, I figured I would shine a light on a very odd New York City phenomenon. I like to call it character creeping, which is like a character greeting except it is completely removed from the context of the parks, wholly janky, and, well, totally creepy. It may very well happen elsewhere but I've never heard anyone talk about it. When I did a Google image search for "Disney costume character NYC" I came up completely empty-handed. I have been in NYC for eight years now, but it only been for about the past two or three that I've seen this practice proliferate. And it freaks me the heck out.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good character meet and greet in the park. I think it is a unique part of the Disney experience to meet your favorite characters from the screen in person and share a moment with them. It is a sad trip for me indeed if I have not at least found Stitch to throw a hang ten sign, do my Stitch voice (which is pretty impeccable, if I do say so myself), and snap a quick pic.

Me and my man. Oh, and Tom's there too. Love you, hon!

I do, however, feel like the whole character greeting affair has gotten a bit out of hand. I can't think of any character worth waiting hours in line just to meet, yet more often than not nowadays that is the status quo. Now they even have queues gussied up to make them feel like they are an attraction unto themselves. (Cough- Pixie Hollow- cough) Though it is kind of them to give you something to look at while you wait, it's still nothing but a fancy pants queue leading up to a brief photo op and maybe autograph, if that's what butters your toast. It's just my personal preference, but there are a booty load of things that I would rather spend my time doing. It's a lot of effort for a very little payoff, unless, of course, you have a little one in tow, which changes the game entirely. Ask me in a few more years, when I've got a nugget with me, and I'll probably feel a bit different.

Best Mary Poppins. Ever.
That being said, some of the most charming experiences I've had in the parks revolve around these greetings, but it's usually not when I've had to line up and wait for an hour and a half. It's hearing Tiana belting her face off with a jazz band while we're eating at the French Market. It's seeing an awesome Mary Poppins who is so in character walking across the hub that I can't approach her for fear of interrupting her business. Another Mary Poppins was in Epcot when Tom and I found her. She was completely in character, very funny, and lovely. When she walked away from the meet and greet she was discussing Bert with her parrot umbrella. We loved her.

I was with my mama and sister in the Magic Kingdom when we queued up to meet several of the princess. When it was my turn to pose with them, I crooked my arm out in a princely fashion, as boys are supposed to, while Kelly girlied it up. When it got to Aurora, Kelly posed and I came forward and Mama said "Pose like her!" Aurora gave Mama a knowing look and then gave me a lesson on how to properly bevel. It was priceless. The cast members work hard to make these moments special, no doubt, but I prefer to stumble over them rather than seek them out. It feels more special when it's an organic part of your day.

As much as I wish I did, I do not live in a Disney park. Lately, Mickey, Minnie and friends are showing up on my home turf. It's quite jarring. Toe-up fakey fakes have been popping up in the streets of New York. Often it's Disney characters, but Elmo is also a fixture. They are shoddily made, sloppy, and run down looking. Now, in this economy I don't begrudge anybody out there trying to make a buck, but these guys kind of irk me. They are completely unauthorized, dilute and sully the Disney brand, and, worst of all, they usually come with small sacks which they shove in your grill for tips if you so much as look at them sideways. They usually congregate near Radio City Music Hall and Times Square, around the way from the huge Toys'R'Us and Disney Store.

Taking a picture of them is a terrifying task on its own. If you don't do it stealthily and they catch you, they will full on come after you, waving their satchels to demand money. I also have caught so many of them walking down the subway stairs in the midst of removing their heads. Sometimes they congregate, headless and sweaty, to count their money in full view of the public. That, in a nutshell (beyond the skeeziness of them expecting money for the privilege of standing next to their sweaty, smelly, matted selves) is what really drives me nuts. Unlike Disney cast members, they have absolutely no respect for the magic.

When I was still running events for a major book chain, I organized an event for a book on Sesame Street. Sonya Manzano, who plays Maria, told a story about a kid who was on the set. They took a lot of care not to let the kids see Muppets laying around, looking lifeless. Once, a little child came us to Sonia, tugged on her pant leg and said, "Miss Maria..." He pointed across the studio at Big Bird, who was taking a brief break, thinking he was unseen, and only wearing the bottom half of the costume and continued, "Does Big Bird know that he has a man in him?" It's a cute story, but when you step back and think about it, how odd it must have been for that kid to unexpectedly find a crack like that in his reality. Sesame Workshop understands that children pay attention and tries to avoid these moments. Kids really notice these things and it affects them.

So I finally got brave and snapped some pictures of these Character Creepings for you. You're welcome.

Notice the human neck. Classy.

Did he steal Sue Sylvester's track pants?

Me hungry... want eat brains...

Minnie is not exempt from creeping.
To be fair, Disney had it's own fair share of vaguely creepy costumed characters. The costumes below seem to be from the opening day festivities which were borrowed from the Ice Capades to say hello to the first crowds through the gates. They obviously hadn't quite gotten a handle on the whole concept yet. 

As scary as Mickey and Minnie may be, it's the bunny
that makes me want my mommy there to protect me.

So what do you think of the character creeping phenomenon? Should someone step in and put the kibosh on them? Should they be allowed to soldier on and make it rain any way they can? Do they tarnish the Disney shine or help to bring the characters to the world?

My plan is to put on my big boy underoos and start snapping pictures of these character creepings when I run across them from here on out and tweet them out to my followers, so now you have even more reason to follow me on Twitter @movedbythemouse. If you are in NYC and are able to catch one in action, please tweet and tag me. Or if you run across one of these anywhere else, let us know where they are spreading out to! Maybe they are stealthily trying to take over the world somehow. I am fascinated!

Remember Tuesday is DATE Night and we'll be taking a trip to Pleasure Island with Pinocchio. Until then I leave you with a picture of me at the most magical meet and greet ever!

Sigh. If only, right? However, now that I think of it, if they had a character greeting with the four Golden Girls out on the lanai, that would be the one meet and greet queue I would probably wait a few hours in. Are you listening Hollywood Studios? You took the the Golden Girls house off of the Backlot Tour, so you owe us at least that much!

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