Disneyland’s parks are about bringing the magic to children in a consistent and reliable way. The long queues are tolerated for the delivered promise of the character-inspired rides at the end. Waiting on the park’s pavements is rewarded with parades of Disney characters to wave at and be waved back.
Children, the young and not-so-young, enter into this unwritten contract with Disney and get transported to the heart and soul of the magic kingdom. Disney is famous for adhering to its side of the deal by ensuring consistency of performance and helpfulness from its cast members (Disney’s term for employees).
This contract is at the heart of the Disney brand and when it isn’t kept, the brand suffers.
On a particularly hot July day at the Disneyland park outside Paris, cast members were dispatched into the crowds to meet and give autographs to children who had bought special autograph books and oversize pens for the cast members to hold through the padded hands of their costumes.
The cast members weren’t out that long, but those in full costumes must have been close to collapsing from heat exhaustion. And it showed: in their haste to reach the sanctuary of the backstage area they literally pushed their way through the crowds of children largely ignoring desperate requests for autographs.
Young children cried, parents grabbed pens and books from their upset youngsters and tried to stop the departing cast members, begging for autographs.
I appreciate what it must have been like to be in those costumes and sympathize with the cast members. After all they are only human. But to the children they weren’t human cast members. To the youngsters they are the Disney characters. And there isn’t something quite so bad as being ignored or shunted aside by your hero.
The Disney magic died a little that day.