After a two-year ban, hugs return to Disneyland

Special for New York Times Infobae.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — On Monday morning, as the smell of cinnamon rolls and sunscreen wafted through the spring air of Disneyland, Rory Sutherland threw himself onto the sidewalk and threw what can only be described like a tantrum.

I was ready to receive a hug from Mickey Mouse; More than ready, in fact: For more than two years, since the start of the pandemic, the wealthy inhabitants of Disneyland have been out of reach. The park was closed for 14 months. When it reopened in April 2021 with significant health-related changes, Mickey, Mimi and their cohorts kept a healthy distance from guests. No hugs or autographs. No secrets whispered in the ears of the little ones. They could only wave from afar, which discouraged some families so much that they canceled or postponed their trips.

However, on Monday, 2-year-old Rory saw someone coming around the corner wearing red pants and chunky white gloves. She cried out, got up from the stool and ran towards him, her arms outstretched. Her mother, father and uncle chased after her, rushing to unlock their phones to take a picture of the embrace.

It’s true: hugs are back.

“Smile! Smile!” Rory shouted to his paparazzi, as Mickey knelt down and began to rub his nose against his. Rory’s mother, Alyssa Sutherland, wiped away a tear. interactions with the characters keep coming back,” Sutherland said, noting that the family traveled to Southern California from Lethbridge, Canada.

Mickey himself probably needed a hug. In addition to the lingering effects of the pandemic; Over the past month, Disney has been embroiled in culture wars. Workers rebelled against the company’s initial silence on an anti-LGBTQ law, and right-wing protests erupted after the company spoke out. In this hyperpartisan moment, both sides of the political divide have pressured Disney, leading to some not-so-magical moments around a brand meant to symbolize happily ever after.

” Kisses to all ! shouted a Disney employee as Mickey arrived.

Some people find Disney’s overly sweet and tightly run theme parks to be pretty scary. Character hugs, which have been a part of the Disneyland experience since its beginnings in the 1950s, can seem particularly odd. Grown men lining up to kiss a life-size Donald Duck? (Yes, adults can do this, with or without children).

Some videos have gone viral showing inappropriate behavior (by guests), such as an action that occurred in 2015, when a young woman touched the muscular chest of the actor who played Gastón from ‘Beauty and the Beast “. (The actor asked him to back off. “It’s over,” he said, shaking his head. kids”).

In some cases, coming face to face with Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh or Aladdin is an avalanche of emotions. “I loved Mickey Mouse, but when I met the real Mickey, or rather the actor who played him, and he tried to hug me in his warm furry costume, I backed off. out of fear,” actress and producer Mindy Kaling wrote on her 2011 Biography blog.

Still, hugging one of Disney’s cartoon characters is considered a rite of passage by many American families. Disney theme parks around the world drew an estimated 151 million visitors in 2019, according to the Themed Entertainment Association, which has yet to release 2021 numbers.

“That’s part of what makes Disney so special,” said Bri Petrarca, who brought her sons Grayson, 5, and Asher, 2, to meet the characters on Monday. She wore a pink T-shirt with the slogan “I came for the hugs”.

At the time, about 50 people were waiting to hug Mimi, who had appeared in her polka-dot clothes near the Main Street USA magic shop. Three women in their twenties, each wearing headbands with mouse ears, were waiting their turn; one, Natalie Parks, from Salt Lake City, said hugging Mimi was “an opportunity to reconnect with my childhood.”

TikTok, Instagram and the ubiquity of camera phones have made these types of interactions more sought-after than ever, according to Robyn Vossen, Disneyland’s general manager of entertainment operations. In some cases, the characters appear without warning (always with a person in charge of acting as a barrier). Some characters, like Disney Princesses, are in such high demand that the company has built highly themed interior environments for them to be there. Walt Disney World in Florida even offers front row reservations.

“Plush characters” (those wearing full bodysuits) don’t speak and only appear for about 30 minutes at a time, largely because it can be exhausting for the performer, especially in the heat of the day. ‘summer. “Characters who show their faces”, such as princesses, do not wear face masks to converse with visitors. Disneyland has about 50 rotating costumed characters, Vossen explained.

With the return of character hugs, operations have almost fully resumed at Disney’s U.S. resorts after a long period in which they prioritized social distancing and other protective measures against the coronavirus. In February, the company eliminated most face covering requirements. The Disneyland Main Street Lighthouse Parade will return on Friday.

Disney needs this summer to be very successful: the company’s division that includes theme parks earned $16.6 billion in revenue last year, up from $26 billion in 2019, according to financial documents.

“Character interactions are very important because they provide an emotional touchpoint,” Vossen said. “This personal, one-to-one interaction is perhaps The Walt Disney Company’s most powerful offering.”

With this statement, Mickey Mouse “went behind the scenes”, as Disney refers to its areas that are not in view of visitors. “It’s time to go to the bathroom,” said a worker.

Vossen, who has worked at Disneyland for 42 years, frowned and rephrased his sentence: “Or go get a little piece of cheese,” he concluded.

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