Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Disney theme parks? Last week, Reddit held an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session with a man who played Goofy at Disney World for 20 years. It’s a fascinating look into the inner workings of the colossal theme park, and, although it offers some stories of employee drama and guests behaving badly, the AMA also includes a story or two that will make you sob like a small child. Fair warning, you may need tissues for this.
This AMA was held by a redditor who goes by “Ihaveanotheridentity.” Ihaveanotheridentity says he worked at Disney World in Florida for more than 25 years, as a tour guide, sales clerk, and character. He wore the Goofy costume for more than two decades, and warns readers, “This post is not for those who wish to preserve the Disney Magic” (although it totally is). Although he writes that he has “a few tear jerkers, a few laugh out loud moments, and a few horror stories,” the most memorable stories from the AMA are the emotional ones — stories that show just how much and encounter with a “real” Disney character can mean to a child. Take this example:
Once Ihaveanotheridentity was working at Give Kids The World, a non-profit resort in central Florida that hosts families with children with serious illnesses. “Goofy” visited with a child sent by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He wrote,
A woman came up with her son who was born with a birth defect that meant he had no muscles in his neck. He looked REALLY bad and his head had to be supported by his mom. This was a special circumstance. The kid's wish was to be held by Goofy. That's it. Just to be held. 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.
Ihaveanotheridentity also makes clear that children aren’t the only ones who can have intense reactions to meeting Disney characters. Those encounters can be profound for adults, too. He recalls,
One [story] that stands out is when I was working at Mickey's Character Spot at Epcot. There was an older gentleman that came up in the queue but didn't come see me, he just sort of stood in the back and watched me for a while. After about 20 minutes he came up to me and said “Goofy, I had a special friend that would want you to have this.” In Goofy you have to look down in order to make it look like Goofy is looking at you so I couldn't see him but I heard him holding back the tears. He was shaking a bit but he gave me a hug anyway. I will never forget that hug. It was one of those hugs that last with you. He was crying in my arms. He had given me this which is a pin they give to family members or friends of POWs and MIAs. It's become one of my most prized possessions.
It would be all too easy to be cynical about these kinds of stories. After all, Disney is a major corporation, and the Disney parks are major commercial enterprises that turn massive profits. But, especially when you’re a child, Disney films and the characters in them can be extremely powerful. Just read this emotional account from “Goofy” about the Disney “magic” that made him decide to leave his job as a VIP tour guide to become a character player:
I was working City Hall one day when two guests came in with two little girls. One was in a wheel chair and the other one looked like she had just seen death. Both were cut and bruised and the one in the wheelchair had her arm in a cast. The two women were actually nurses from a hospital and were asking for a refund on the girl's tickets, something we avoided doing at all costs. When I asked why they told me the story. The two girls were with their mom and dad at Epcot and on the way home they got into a horrible car accident. The mother was beheaded right in front of them. The father eventually died too but the two girls didn't know that yet. They were from overseas and had no money and no contact information for anyone they knew. They were bringing the tickets back to get the girls some much needed money to help get them back home. My heart absolutely sunk. If you had seen these girls you'd know why. They were truly traumatized. I refunded their tickets and got permission to be their private tour guide for the rest of the day (which they were not expecting). I walked them to the VIP viewing area for the parade which was as far as I could walk them in the costume we used to wear at City Hall. I had to leave them there while I put on my VIP costume. On the way down I pulled out every kid joke I could think of. I was a REALLY good tour guide (I helped write part of it) and I knew how to make kids smile. Nothing worked. These girls were too far gone for that. I left them at the bridge to go change, walked backstage and bawled my eyes out. I just had never seen something so horrible. I was truly affected and it was a terrible feeling of powerlessness not being able to fix the situation. When I came back I brought them to get ice-cream, take them on rides and stuff but they never smiled, not once. The nurses were loving it and were trying to get them into it but it just wasn't working. We went back to the bridge to watch the parade. It was there that I honestly saw true magic. Real magic, not bullshit. I had called the parade department to let them know what was going on and set up a private meet and greet after the parade. As the parade was coming around Liberty Square I told the girls that I had called Mickey and told them all about them. I told them that Mickey asked to meet them after the parade.
The little girl in the wheelchair smiled.
"Really?" she asked. My heart skipped. "Yes, really! He told me to tell you to look out for him in the parade and to follow the float back to City Hall."
The other girl smiled.
"You mean right now?" she asked.
It had worked. They were talking. Not laughing, but talking. It was the first time I had heard them speak. Every single parade performer came up to them on the bridge and told them to look out for Mickey. Every one of them told them that. When Mickey's float came up Mickey (who was attached to a pole at the top of the float) managed to turn her body sideways, look down at the girls and point towards Main Street. 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. We followed that float all the way back to City Hall, singing "Mickey Mania" the whole way. Back then, City Hall used to have a VIP lounge behind the desk that was for privacy during difficult situations or to host celebrities. I took them in and showed them the book where all of the autographs were. They were eating it up.
The girl who was Mickey that day (K.T., I will always love you for this) got down off her float and without even taking her head off walked up to me backstage and said "Let's go." I walked in with Mickey behind me so I got to see the exact moment the girls met their new friend. They got shy but Mickey was in control now. Those girls met the REAL Mickey Mouse that day. Every single parade character stayed dressed to meet those girls. One by one they'd come in and play a bit then leave. We were in that lounge for over an hour. Mickey stayed in costume the entire time (which is hard to do after a parade). When Mickey finally said goodbye I had two excited girls on my hands that couldn't stop smiling. They talked and talked and talked. We had a wonderful day after that but what I remember most is when we walked by the rose garden, the older one said "Oh, my mommy loves roses! I mean..." and she stopped. I held out my hand and walked her to the gate, picked her up and put her on the other side and said "Pick one!" She looked happy as she picked out her favorite rose. She didn't say anything more and she didn't need to. I said goodbye to the wonderful nurses and the wonderful girls then walked backstage behind the train station. This time I didn't cry. It felt so good to be a part of that. 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.
Redditor Morfolk speaks for many of us: “Sir, you are a scumbag. First you warn me in your opening statement that I will lose my faith in Disney magic and then you tell the most magical Disney story ever.”
You can read the whole AMA here.
Images: Reddit; Giphy