For some, meeting characters is a big part of the Walt Disney World experience. People even literally wait for hours to meet their child’s (or their own) favorite Disney princess. Others don’t consider it such a big deal, and rarely stop to get a picture taken with a character.
My wife and I will wait a bit for certain characters (like Baymax or Tinkerbell), but generally we won’t wait too long for most characters. It’s not that we don’t like meeting them, we both have our favorites and enjoy getting pictures with them, we just rarely think it’s worth a long wait.
On our last trip, though, there was one character that we really wanted to meet: Mickey Mouse. More specifically, the Magician Mickey Mouse at the Town Square Theater.
What’s so special about this particular meet and greet? In many ways, he looks more or less like any other big-headed costumed character. The difference, though, is that this one can talk. Not just that, but his mouth moves, his eyes blink, and he speaks directly to guests.
On our first Magic Kingdom day the line was pretty long every time we checked, upwards of 45 minutes, and though we really wanted to meet Mickey we never actually took the time. We considered a Fastpass+ to minimize the wait, but got involved in doing other fun things and the timing just never worked out. We did meet Tinkerbell, whose meet and greet is also in the Town Square Theater, but we didn’t find the time to wait for Mickey. We were heading back to MK the next day, though, so figured that we would definitely make the time then. Which we did, and the wait wasn’t as bad when we went back. It was posted at a half hour, though in reality we were probably in line for twenty minutes at the most.
As we got close, we could finally see Mickey Mouse! Even just being a spectator was cool as he interacted with other guests.
First off, the technology in the suit was amazing. The movement looked great, and it really elevated the meet and greet from “getting a picture taken with someone in a suit” to an interaction with a character. This is by no means a knock on getting a picture taken with someone in a suit (the fact that we’ve met the REAL BUZZ LIGHTYEAR is a running joke here in the top-secret Magic & Misadventures compound), and obviously the movements aren’t quite as realistic as if you were talking to an actual giant anthropomorphic mouse, but it is surprisingly engaging. Even just his eyes blinking made the character seem that much more real.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that he talks. His mouth moves, words come out, and those word sound exactly like Mickey Mouse.
When it was our turn, Mickey greeted us and hugged us, and then he noticed my Haunted Mansion T-shirt. He explained that he had been to that creepy mansion, and was scared of the ghosts. He mentioned that they told him “a ghost would follow you home” and when I explained that they had said the same to me he proceeded to run around and look behind various objects to try and find any errant spirits. Finally he suggested, since I was wearing that shirt, that we should pose together like the hitchhiking ghosts.
As we were leaving, Mickey gave his best impression of Little Leota (from the end of Haunted Mansion), saying “hurry baaaaack”.
I’ve done some research since then to determine if it’s a live person talking within the suit or if there are a set of prerecorded phrases, and honestly I’m not 100% sure either way. Many reports suggest that it’s just recordings, and that could be the case. A friend that I spoke to later said that when he and his daughter went, Mickey suggested to them that they pose like the hitchhiking ghosts (none of them were wearing any Haunted Mansion clothing). Then, when we went, there were people in front of us in line from Chile. When Mickey’s ‘handler’ mentioned this to him he started speaking to them in Spanish. This suggests, to me, that there may be someone behind the scenes programming what Mickey is saying. After all, is a person in a Mickey suit expected to know every language there is, to cater to guests from all over the world? So it’s possible that there’s just someone pushing buttons, creating the conversations out of a series of prerecorded options. There have also been reports of Mickey cutting people off or saying things irrelevant to the conversation, though all of those are from very early on and I haven’t seen anything about that happening in the last couple years.
On the other hand, though, there is this patent which basically allows someone to talk and have their speech transformed to sound like a different person’s voice. The patent specifically states that “the system may be used to enable a talking, costumed character” which suggests that Disney does have the tech in which someone–either the person in the suit or someone behind the scenes with a microphone–can talk and have it sound like a character. So it’s entirely possible that there is a person in that suit speaking and it’s coming out sounding like Mickey Mouse, and it’s even plausible that they happen to know some Spanish. It’s also likely that they would have fallback phrases they like to use which would account for the repetition, it’s probably tough to constantly come up with new material for the hundreds of guests you’d be talking to each day. Maybe one of the speakers is a big Haunted Mansion fan and frequently asks guests to pose like the hitchhiking ghosts.
Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t actually matter either way.
After my wife and I met Mickey Mouse, we were giddy and giggling like little kids. We were floored by the whole experience, and it was one of the highlights of an already amazing trip. We didn’t know how they did it, and frankly we didn’t care. All we knew was that we just had a conversation with Mickey Mouse!
There’s that tiny part of your brain, the one that tries to rationally explain the world around you, which may tell you that it’s just a person in a suit. That a complex system of electronics control the eye and mouth movement, and that the speech is just someone pushing buttons or talking into a microphone. But when you’re standing there, and you’re having a conversation with Mickey, and his mouth is moving, that tiny part of your brain just gets quiet for a few minutes. How they did it doesn’t matter, what matters is that they did and that you’re having this amazing interaction with an iconic character.
That, folks, is Disney magic.