Apr 22, 2024

Disney Character Actors May Start a Union: Sounds Like a Hard Cel

Can a labor collective carry a ‘toon?

By Ed Goldman

According to CBS News, “Actors at Disneyland who perform as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, as well as other costumed characters at the California theme park, said Tuesday they are moving to form a union.”

By now, the extremely late Walt Disney (he died in 1966) has had to turn over in his grave so many times that he may have mastered perpetual motion in the after-life. 

Edgy Cartoon

Goofy demands

Had he lived to see his company produce movies rated R—”Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” “Logan,” the “Deadpool” franchise and even “Pretty Woman” (suggested alternate title: “Cinderella Hooker”)—he would not have been Happy. Grumpy, maybe. 

I say this is because even though most of the 35,000 workers at Disneyland already have labor unions—about 1,700 performers and character actors still don’t, according to the report—Walt despised labor unions. Oh, he liked labor, all right. In fact, his early employees, all gone now except for a few of the original Mouseketeers, considered themselves slave labor. Walt liked hard work, all right, but didn’t think anybody’s except his own should be financially rewarded.

(For some reason, this reminds me of the lament a captain of industry told me the managers and staff of his construction firm often uttered: “If it weren’t for all these goddamn customers, our work would be a lot easier!” And no, I’m not making that up. Nor was he.) 

The employees who portray Disney characters are actors, though it’s hard to imagine they’re waiting for a big break, plying their trade not only anonymously, but also silently. Even if you can “do” a perfectly acceptable Donald or Daisy Duck voice, it’s verboten. Accordingly, the thought that a Hollywood agent will see you parading around in costume and declare, “Hey, I really believed this guy was Goofy!” may define magical thinking.

Perhaps the actors’ intentions will force the studio to deal with a few questions that have long vexed even the most loyal of fans, a mega-cult in which you can include me (after all, I went to Disneyland when I was four-and-a-half years old, the summer it first opened):

– If Mickey Mouse’s house pet Pluto and his good pal, the aforementioned Goofy, are both dogs, why does one wear clothes, walk on two legs and talk, and the other walk on all fours, live in a state of perpetual nudity and bark? Why does Goofy get to avail himself of indoor plumbing and Pluto have to continually reaffirm his turf outdoors, regardless of the weather? Where’s the SPCA when you need it?

– Conservative moralist that he claimed to be, how could Walt have countenanced the following: 

(a) A beautiful young woman living in a cabin with seven male miners with genetic birth challenges; 

(b) The aforementioned Donald and Daisy Duck, who weirdly share a surname but aren’t married, and have identical triplet “nephews” (Huey, Dewey and Louie) who look just like them; Mickey and Minnie Mouse, who also share a surname but aren’t married.

(c) Mickey also has his own “nephews,” identical twins Mortimer “Morty” and Ferdinand “Ferdie” Fieldmouse. At least they seem to have sprung from parents other than Mickey and Minnie, the never-seen Mr. and Mrs. Fieldmouse; and yet, 

(d) “Mortimer” was the name Disney originally gave to Mickey. Coincidence? And should the name Fieldmouse be hyphenated, thereby revealing that Minnie Mouse’s maiden name was—gasp!—Minnie Field?   

These are the questions that keep me up at night—and maybe explain why my subconscious has announced it’s going on strike. I didn’t even know it was in a union.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).