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
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
[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
— andcouldn’t — hurtanyone. 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 minutesto 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!”
In 2004, a Disney cast member was actually prosecuted on criminal charges.