People all over the world will travel miles and miles to visit a Disney theme park. We know and love the movies, we’re familiar with the brand, and we’re ready to visit a place where, at least for a few days, we can let ourselves believe in something magical.
But how does Disney do it? We may never know the full secret recipe. Only those who sign on to work for the Mouse are educated on its inner workings, and many of them prefer to “keep the magic alive,” but we can share at least 10 strategies Disney parks use to ensure you have a magical experience.
1. Only a select few may become Disney character actors.
The audition process to become Disney a character actor is tough. Character actors play costumes characters, like Micky Mouse, Geni, or Pinocchio.
After waiting in line for potentially hours, hopefuls are divided into groups of 50 people, lined up in rows of 10, and each appraised for their physical appearance. Many will be “typed out” at this point, and let go.
Professional actors are used to facing rejection consistently, but for the average Jane this part can be heartbreaking. I only auditioned for Disney once, but I remember after being typed out, I passed so many girls openly weeping on my way out.
2. The ‘Disney look’ is very specific.
These iconic characters each have a specific look that must be preserved. To be cast as a Disney character, actors have to fit specific height and body type requirements. You have to be between 5’3-5’7 to play a Disney princess, and between 4’11-5’2 to play Wendy, Alice, or a fairy like Tinkerbell.
Male Disney characters like Kristoff, Gaston, and Tarzan are always 6’0-6’3. In addition to meeting height requirements, all princesses are required to have a “slender build” and men are required to have a “strong, athletic build.”
3. It’s time for “Princess School.”
Training to play a Disney park character includes watching their movie and receiving coaching to learn their every move, gesture, and facial expression. It’s important for actors to know the character’s story inside out, down to their favorite color. Actors want to be prepared for any question a child could throw at them. They also have to learn their character’s signature vocal pattern.
Susan Banks, an actor who portrayed characters like Tinkerbell and many petite fur characters told BuzzFeed,
“For most girls, the character is higher than their actual voice…Actually it’s so high that some girls will go on vocal rest because it strains their vocal chords — especially when they first start out.”
If someone is playing Mary Poppins or Wendy Darling, they’ll need accent coaching, but even characters we wouldn’t normally think of as having accents still have a specific way of speaking.
4. Consistency is key.
All character actors will be taught by a professional cosmetologist how to apply their character’s signature makeup look. They’ll be paid for one hour of makeup/costume prep time each day they perform, and Disney provides the makeup products to ensure consistency. Ben Nye, a professional brand used specifically for the stage and theatrical performance, is the official brand of Disney park actors.
Whether you’re a fur or a face character actor, everyone has to learn the official signature of each character they portray. This ensures consistency from year to year. If doesn’t matter if you visited the park last year and your friend visited three years ago, you should both have signatures that look pretty much the same.
5. “Fur characters” must also be consistent.
Fur characters are the characters dressed up in big suits. They are not allowed to speak and can only communicate through physical gestures.
Fur characters get paid less than face characters (those who don’t wear the big suits), but they also have shorter sets. A fur character won’t have a set that’s longer than 30 minutes when outside or 45 minute when inside, and they’re guaranteed just as much time to rest as the spend interacting with guests.
Fur actors also have to be able to sign autographs, despite how difficult it can be to see in those suits. (On that note, please don’t ask them to hold your baby for a picture.)
6. Practically perfect.
Character actors, especially the Disney princesses, are basically expected to look and act perfectly at all times. This pressure also extends to maintaining a certain weight. In an interview with Refinery29, Disney character actor Becca opened up about the pressure she felt to stay trim.
“You can’t help but be judgmental about your looks when it comes to this job — honestly, it’s pretty sad. We all constantly compare ourselves and try to copy each other. I have a gym membership because I feel like I’m supposed to maintain the look I was hired in with.”
I’ve also had friends who work as character actors for Disney echo this same sentiment. Unfortunately the happiest place on Earth can become a toxic, unsafe environment for the young people working to portray these face characters.
7. Every Disney employee is a “cast member.”
The “Disney Look” isn’t just for actors. All cast members (anyone employed in a Disney park or store) have to memorize their customer service scripts and follow a specific dress code.
For instance, cast members can only have “natural” hair colors (no pinks and purples), nails must be kept short and a natural shade. Females may only wear one ring on each hand (with the exception of wedding bands). There are even guidelines for the types of hairstyles and facial hair men are allowed to have.
All cast members are players in the show that is Disney parks.
8. There are strict rules to follow.
In an interview with Cosmopolitan, an anonymous princess who played Belle explained,
“You have to smile for an hour straight; you can’t drop your smile until you go on break and are behind closed doors because Disney doesn’t want any pictures of us not smiling. The first few weeks, my face literally hurt…
She goes on to explain how she was expected to greet 172 guests per hour. If she or the other princesses went under, they would get a reprimand. Four reprimands equals termination.
Disney cast members could also be fired for taking selfies or pictures backstage while at work. Those who work as character actors can’t even post about it on social media. They’re only allowed to make comments like, “It was so nice to see my friend Ariel at Disney World today…” Disney doesn’t want social media to spoil the magic.
9. But guests will be held accountable too.
Guests who break rules at Disney World will be held accountable. Spreading a relative’s ashes at Disney World (especially in the Haunted Mansion) is a consistent offense the park strictly prohibits. The ashes only end up getting cleaned up and disposed of, and those caught doing so can be escorted off the premises and banned for life.
And don’t think you can be sneaky about it. Security is everywhere in Disney world, in uniform and plain clothes. If you attempt to injure a cast member, smoke in non-smoking areas, or make a drunken fool of yourself, don’t be surprised if you end up in a not-so-magical jail cell.
10. The magic is in the details.
As harsh as some of these rules might seem for “the happiest place on Earth,” it’s the details that really make a Disney experience so special.
Thanks to careful scheduling, guests will never see two of the same characters out and about at the same time. If Micky is in the parade at 3:00pm, you won’t be able to find him anywhere else until that parade has ended.
Disney cast members are also required to employ the “Disney point,” which means pointing with two fingers instead of one, because pointing with one finger can be seen as rude.
Of equal importance is the idea that children are never “lost” at Disney world. Only adults can be lost, and it will be the job of a Disney cast member to help a child find their lost adult. Disney utilizes tricks like this to preserve the magic.
Sometimes knowing how the sausage is made makes it less appetizing. Certainly there are aspects to Disney culture that can be seen as potentially problematic, like the expectation put on character actors to maintain a specific weight, but knowing how much thought and detail has gone into creating the Disney park experience also makes me respect it a lot more. The people who work for Disney do so by choice, and most of the time they do it because they love the culture.
Are you more or less in love with Disney after reading this article? Let us know in the comments!