Fact Check

Have Disney Character Actors Molested Park Guests?

Some complaints have been quite serious.

Published Aug. 11, 1996

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Costumed cast members have been accused of molesting Disney theme park guests.
What's True

Costumed cast members have been accused of molesting Disney theme park guests.

What's False

Such accusations have generally not been sustained by courts when complainants have pursued legal redress.

We expect the costumed characters who roam the grounds at Disney theme parks to be nothing less than kind and cuddly all the time. Even the not-so-cute "evil" characters (e.g., Jafar, Captain Hook) are supposed to exhibit nothing but boundless patience and good cheer in accommodating guests and posing for endless streams of souvenir photographs, however much they may be pushed, pulled, punched, taunted, or otherwise abused by some of Disney's less well-behaved clientele. It's all too easy for some park visitors to lose themselves in the fantasy and forget that those figures are not really indestructible cartoon characters but flesh-and-blood people laboring inside of hot, heavy, cumbersome costumes. These cast members generally exhibit nothing but good cheer while working under difficult circumstances for relatively little pay, but should any of them ever lapse and momentarily display the very human reactions of frustration or exasperation, you can bet that someone will complain about it.

Sometimes the complaints lodged are quite serious, with guests maintaining that a costumed cast member was not just rude or uncooperative, but acting in a hostile and physically abusive manner — to the extent that some complaints have resulted in civil or criminal proceedings. In most cases, though, the defense that character costumes so limit cast members' peripheral vision and body movements that the alleged actions would be impossible or extremely difficult to perform intentionally wins out.

In 1981, for example, Disneyland was the target of a lawsuit alleging that, three years earlier, a nine-year-old girl had received a beating delivered by one Winnie-the-Pooh. The lovable bear had supposedly slapped her in the face, resulting in bruising, recurring headaches, and possible brain damage. As writer David Koenig described the ensuing trial:

[Disney attorney W. Mike] McCray's first witness was Robert Hill, the actor who portrayed Pooh bear at the park that day. Hill testified that while in costume, his vision and movements are severely restricted. The girl, then nine years old, was tugging at him from behind and, in turning to see who it was, he accidentally struck her with an ear. "We're trained not to retaliate," he said.

McCray then asked for a brief recess. After jurors returned to their seats, Hill reentered the courtroom in costume. Taking the witness stand, Pooh answered the lawyer's questions by nodding his head and stomping his feet. "What do you do at Disneyland?" McCray asked. Pooh got up and did a jig down the aisle. The courtroom audience burst into laughter. "Have the record show that he's doing a two-step," noted the judge. By calling Pooh to the stand the attorney was able to present a lovable, sympathetic witness who wouldn't — and couldn't — hurt anyone. The bear demonstrated that he couldn't have slapped the girl in the face as she claimed. The costume's arms were too low to the ground. The jury took just 21 minutes to acquit Pooh on all charges.

In another civil case, in 1976 a woman filed a lawsuit against Disneyland and sought $150,000 in damages for assault and battery, false imprisonment, and humiliation, asserting that a park employee wearing a pig costume had run up to her near the "It's a Small World" attraction, grabbed her, and fondled her breasts while squealing "Mommy! Mommy!" — an experience that had supposedly left her so upset that she gained 50 pounds. That complaint never saw the inside of a courtroom, as the plaintiff dropped her case after Disney's showed her a photo of the pig costume which revealed that the outfit had no operable arms, only stubs.

In 2004, a Disney cast member was actually prosecuted on criminal charges. Michael C. Chartrand, a Walt Disney World employee who worked inside a Tigger costume, was the subject of a police investigation after a 13-year-old girl complained that he had fondled her breast while she posed for a photo with him and her mother in WDW's Magic Kingdom park on 21 February 2004. (The girl's mother maintained that she had been similarly fondled, but her allegation was not an element of the criminal case.) Mr. Chartrand was arrested in April 2004 and charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a child and simple battery; by the following week 24 more complaints about him had been lodged with authorities. (All of the other complainants either lacked sufficient evidence to press charges or were unwilling to do so, however.)

Mr. Chartrand declined a plea bargain and took his case to trial, and in August 2004 a jury deliberated for less than an hour before returning a verdict of "not guilty" on the charge of lewd and lascivious molestation. As part of his closing argument, Mr. Chartrand's attorney, Jeffrey Kaufman (who himself worked for Disney as a costumed character), donned the Tigger costume to demonstrate to jurors the difficulty of maneuvering and seeing while inside in the outfit.


Koenig, David.   Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland.     Irvine, CA: Bonaventure Press, 1994.   ISBN 0-9640605-5-8   (pp. 206-207).

Colarossi, Anthony and Mussenden, Sean.   "'Tigger' Hopes Job at Disney Awaits Him."     Orlando Sentinel.   6 August 2004.

Mussenden, Sean.   "'Tigger' Will Return to His Job at Disney."     Orlando Sentinel.   7 August 2004.

Associated Press.   "24 New Complaints Against Disney 'Tigger' Employee."     WFTV.com.   9 April 2004.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.