Have you ever wondered what life is like as a costumed Disney character? Wonder no more. In 2016 a man who used to play Goofy at Walt Disney World, Mikey Jacobs, did an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. He got very in-depth about what happens behind-the-scenes at the park. Some of his stories might decrease your faith in Disney magic… or they might increase it.
20. Some princesses are mean girls
In the Disney movies, the princess heroines are lovely people. But this isn’t always true when it comes to the people playing them at the parks. According to Jacobs, “Some of the break rooms are like the high-school cafeteria where the ‘cool’ princesses (Elsa and Anna) sit on one side and make eyes at the ‘old’ characters (Snow and Poppins). It’s really childish.”
The man (dog?) on the inside continued, “Other face performers think they’re on Broadway and demand respect and they hate not getting it.” But, he concluded, those folks were the “extreme cases” and some of the Disney World actors were in fact “the sweetest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
19. Toy Story characters no longer do the trick that went viral
In the Toy Story movies, the toys immediately stop moving and fall to the ground whenever a human appears. And around 2013, a meme started circulating about the toy characters at the park doing the exact same thing. A guest only had to yell “Andy’s coming!,” and they would drop. And it was true!… for a while.
Jacobs informed the people of Reddit that the Toy Story characters would no longer do the stop-and-drop for guests. According to another person in the thread, “The handlers/friends of the characters now say something like, ‘Andy is away at college,’ because too many people were doing that to Buzz and Woody.”
18. Auditioning for Disney can be fun
A Reddit user asked Jacobs, “What is the casting process like?” He answered, “If you mean the audition process, it’s like any dance audition you’ve ever been to, but there’s an animation part that’s fun (wait tables like Donald Duck, mow the lawn like Pluto, etc.)” That does indeed sound like a blast.
However, Jacobs went on, “The casting for everyone else depends on what role you’re applying for. Some require a math test, some require multiple interviews. It used to be kind of hard to get hired by Disney, but now they’ll take anyone who doesn’t have multiple felonies on their record. They just got too big.”
17. Costumes are washed frequently
Florida, where Disney World is located, is a pretty hot place. Jacobs mentioned during his AMA that he’d even seen people pass out from the heat in the parks. Now imagine experiencing that same heat while in a furry Goofy or Mickey costume. There would be sweat… lots and lots of it.
The smell would be unbearable if the costumes weren’t regularly cleaned. Luckily, according to the man who once was Goofy: “Costumes are washed every day. It wasn’t always like that, but it is now. The costumers are very professional and do a great job keeping everything clean and safe.” But what was it like before?
16. Roles are determined based on height
One person asked Jacobs, “Where did you fit in the character pecking order (if Mickey was #1)?” The answer was more complicated than one might have anticipated. The former Disney World star explained, “There were some costumes that were more fun to play than others, for example I’d much rather be Gepetto over Goofy any day, but you have to stay in your height range.”
Jacobs went on, “As much as I would have loved to have been Pluto, there’s no way I could because I’m too tall. The height ranges in order were duck, mouse, munk, Pluto, Tigger, Goofy, Beast.” The “munks” in question are the chipmunks Chip & Dale, who frequently pop up around the Disney park, and the ducks and mice – well, we all know their identities.
15. Don’t ask a character to hold your baby!
Would you give a baby to a costumed Disney World character? Jacobs revealed in the AMA, in answer to the question “What is the weirdest request that a visitor ever asked you to do?” “That’s a hard one because guests routinely do stupid weird things. I think the worst of them is when people bring their newborn infants to the parks and ask us to hold them for a picture.”
The ex-Disney World worker went on, “I can’t see s––t in Goofy let alone other costumes, and I’m wearing giant gloves or paws or whatever depending on what character I am. Why would you let me hold your baby? Yeesh!” So there’s some advice for people who want to take their young children to the Magic Kingdom.
14. Don’t take pictures backstage
The question was put to Jacobs, “Did you ever get in trouble or see other people being fired over being out of character in places?” He answered, “Well, when I was hired, it wasn’t a thing, but that was before digital cameras and especially smart phones.” Jacobs had posted pictures of himself as Goofy for the AMA, but he claimed modern-day Disney workers would be fired for doing something like that.
Jacobs explained, “Nowadays you will get totally busted if you dare to take a back stage pic like the one I have in the post, but all you have to do is go online. You’ll find hundreds of pictures like that. In fact, they used to have a program where they’d put managers into costumes for the day, and they’d all take a picture with their heads off as their take home surprise. They don’t do that anymore.”
13. Parents can be difficult
Kids can be frightened of the large costumed characters roaming Disney World. But in Jacobs’ opinion, “For the most part I appreciated when parents would stay in character. I hated when people would tell their kids, ‘It’s just a guy in a suit, don’t be scared,’ which scares the kids even more.”
Jacobs continued, “What I didn’t like was when they [parents] would drill me with trivia questions and make me act out the answers. That used to be fun in the old days, but toward the end we had to see as many guests as possible, and there was always pressure from management to go faster and faster.”
12. Trash is collected via tubes
For obvious reasons, the Magic Kingdom generates lots of trash. Thousands of people go there every day and most of them unwrap food in the park. So where does all the waste go? Well, Jacobs explained that the park uses a creation called the “Automated Vacuum Assisted Collection System” or AVACs.
The Disney World insider explained, “There’s a ‘tunnel’ underneath (it’s actually the first floor, the second and third floors are what you see in the park) and the AVACS is a series of tubes that connects all of the restaurants to the main dump that’s behind Splash Mountain. The trash is whisked away under the park so the guests don’t have to see it or smell it. It’s pretty cool.” It is.
11. Characters won’t be mean about non-Disney characters
Adults know that characters from other animation studios such as Warner Brothers won’t appear in Disney parks. But children might not know that. One person asked, “How do cast members, handlers, or tour guides respond when kids ask questions about non-Disney characters like Bugs Bunny or my second favorite, Marvin the Martian (second to Goofy btw)?”
Jacobs answered, “It’s up to the cast member but personally I’d just say I didn’t know much about them. What I wouldn’t do is pretend they don’t exist. Roger Rabbit [the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit] showed us that all the toons get along pretty well, and MtM might be someone’s favorite so I’d respect that.”
10. All characters will give the same autograph
Whisper it, but obviously more than one person plays Goofy at the Disney parks. Same goes for Mickey Mouse and any other character you can think of. But no matter which Goofy you meet, even if you visit the park more than once with years in between, you’ll receive the same autograph. This takes a lot of work on the part of the actors.
Jacobs explained on the Reddit thread, “We used to be able to sign our character’s autograph any way we wanted (except Mickey), but then a guy named Chris came up with standard autographs, which are consistently used no matter who the performer is, which is way better in my opinion. We have a small summary of the character that has the autograph on it, and we try to make it look the same when we sign.”
9. Disney characters can’t talk about their actual job
If you got to play Goofy or another popular character at Disney World, you’d want to let people know, right? But you wouldn’t be allowed. The Disney insider explained, “When I worked there, it was very important I not give away what I did for a living. I never told people what I did, or I would say I was really good friends with Goofy.”
Disney is determined that guests never know the true identities of the people who play their characters. In fact, in 2008 a former Jack Sparrow performer revealed to Los Angeles Magazine that he had to take down any social media that mentioned Disney and “sign documents that stated if I was in the park and out of costume, I could not tell people that I played Jack Sparrow.”
8. Ashes really do get spread at Disney World
There’s been a long-standing urban legend that mourners will sometimes deposit the ashes of deceased loved ones at Disney World, even though that’s very much not allowed. But over the years, the status of this story has gone from “rumor” to “truth.” Disney employees are frequently tasked with cleaning up human remains.
A Reddit user asked Jacobs, “Is it true that some folks attempt to spread the ashes of a loved one in the park or on a favorite ride?” And he answered, “Happens all the time, especially in the dark rides. It’s treated like dust unless we know for sure it’s a loved one, then it’s HAZMAT time.”
7. You should never be able to see two of the same character
If a child met Snow White in the Magic Kingdom and then saw a second Snow White walking past them at the same time, it would raise some very awkward questions. A Redditor asked Jacobs, “Is it true that someone gets fired if two of the same characters appear in the same area of the park?”
The answer from Jacobs was, “It would depend on the situation. I’ve met my double on set by accident a few times over the years (it happens to the best of us), but it was just that, an accident. The only way someone would get fired (I’m only guessing here) is if they did it on purpose.”
6. Characters shouldn’t play fight
One person in the thread thought they might have met the Reddit Goofy. They said, “Did you ever jokingly ‘punch’ like older kids, so the younger ones would realize that it’s not so scary? I remember messing around with a Goofy once or twice like play fighting a bit. It was cool and random but awesome too.”
The costumed man in question answered, “Nope. Sounds like fun, but characters are never supposed to animate anything violent. I’m glad you had fun though. Sometimes you just have to make an exception. It sounds like Goofy liked you!” That makes sense though – the last thing you want is an accidental punch from a beloved character.
5. Backstage at Disney can actually be quite boring
Many people dream of venturing into the Disney World Utilidor tunnel, where all the behind-the-scenes stuff happens, but according to Jacobs it’s not actually all that great. He said that he used to enjoy bringing touring guests to the “boring, smelly” Utilidor and “watching the disappointment on their faces when they got down there.”
However Jacobs went on, “That being said, it has two restaurants, a barber shop, miles of tubing that carries garbage from the restaurants to the dump behind Splash Mountain, and seven of the original rides are still run from down there. It was my home for many, many years. It’s sad that I’ll never see it again as gross as it was.”
4. Characters interact with Make-a-Wish kids
Sadly, there are a lot of children who go to Disney World because they might never have another chance at doing so. This obviously affects the people inside the costumed characters. Jacobs remembered, “A woman came up with her son who was born with a birth defect that meant he had no muscles in his neck…This was a special circumstance. The kid’s wish was to be held by Goofy.”
Jacobs went on, “The mother told me that because of his ‘life problems’ everyone is afraid to even touch him. She laid him very carefully in my arms (sitting on the ground) and let go. We rocked back and forth on that floor for what seemed forever. It was one of the times where I forgot I had the costume on, and I just cried and cried. He was such a special kid. I’ll never forget that.”
3. There’s a reason costumed characters don’t talk
Those who spend a lot of time around Disney parks will know that the costumed characters never talk. The princesses and other “face” characters do, but Mickey, Goofy, Donald etc. remain silent. It makes sense when you think about it – the mask parts of the costumes don’t actually move after all.
Jacobs explained on Reddit, “We are NOT ALLOWED TO EVER TALK IN COSTUME IN FRONT OF GUESTS. EVER.” But he also revealed, “Backstage however, anything goes. I used to love telling dirty jokes to unsuspecting new hires. I do have a good Goofy laugh, but it took me years to perfect.”
2. Heat can be a problem
Disney World is in Orlando, Florida, and as we noted earlier, it’s known for getting very hot in the summer. Goofy dispensed the advice, “The Florida sun can be BRUTAL in summer months. Get sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, mister fans, cold towels, etc. before you arrive. You don’t want to pay Disney prices for these items, and you will NEED them.”
Jacobs shared the trick, “Don’t pay $3.00/bottle for water. Free cups of ice water are available at most quick-service food locations.” He also explained parents should be careful not to push their kids to do “fun” things, saying, “If you are a seven year old, walking around for 12 hours in Florida conditions can get miserable very fast.”
1. Disney staff can have a big impact
One story Jacobs shared on the Reddit thread went viral across the whole internet. It was the tale of why he decided to switch from his regular Disney job and become a costumed character. Once, he said, two little girls came to the parks as victims of a terrible car accident. They had lost their mother and were absolutely devastated. Jacobs tried to cheer them up, but nothing worked until Mickey came along.
When the girls encountered Mickey, Jacobs wrote, “That was all it took. The girls were excited now. They had forgotten about death. They were lost in a magical world, and I couldn’t believe I was watching it unfold in front of my eyes.” After that, he said, “I realized that as much as I liked helping guests at City Hall, the true magic of Disney was in the character department. I auditioned, transferred and never looked back.”