Author Chris Mitchell found himself without a job, a girlfriend and any good news in his life. So he decided to leave Los Angeles and head to Disney World in Orlando and pursue a job as a photographer – and attempt to escape the troubles that surrounded him. What he discovered, instead, was, truly, a whole new world - where the powder he found there wasn’t pixie dust, and playground romps weren’t just for children.
Mitchell read from his book, Cast Member Confidential – A Disneyfied Memoir, recently at Books and Books in Coral Gables (265 Aragon Ave., 305-442-4408).
In the book Mitchell shares his discovery of a darker, kinkier side to Disney happiness, including Pleasure Island (Disney’s adult playground), the Disney Ghetto (an apartment block for employees where cast members and characters engage in very un-characteristic behavior in and out of costume), and the backstage area (the hidden side of Disney World with its vast network of tunnels for everything from climate control to garbage disposal).
Mitchell also writes about the break rooms and secret hiding places where he has his first experience of “sex on property” with a frisky stilt walker, and the hierarchy of characters and how the Disney Princesses - Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Ariel - are the pinnacle of the character class.
Before his recent reading, Mitchell took some time to chat about his experiences and what it’s like to take on Disney.
So, why Disney World?
Disneyland was the original but Disney World is Walt's utopian society. Employing nearly 70,000 (cast members) Disney World is actually a medium-sized city. The thing that makes it more fascinating than your average Florida town is the totalitarian system of rules. Where some communities have municipal codes, Disney World has a system of rules so complex that they influence what cast members wear, how they behave, the way they wear their hair and makeup, the way they talk ... on and off stage. Disney World is a vision of the future as it would look if it were designed by 8-year-old architects.
Are there any cast member reunions?
Disney cast members are like masons. You find them where you least expect them. You can recognize someone who has been through the Disney training program because they point with two fingers and smile when they say "hello" and "goodbye."
Why do think the Disney cast members are such hard partiers? Isn’t there a huge schism between their day jobs and their personal lives?
Some people go to college; some go to Disney. Either way they go through a lot of self-searching and experimentation: sexuality, substances ... young cast members are just trying to find an identity. In a lot of cases, the character program acts as a kind of finishing school for people. They come without a real sense of identity but through animation training with the characters they learn valuable behavior lessons. Working as Goofy might teach someone to laugh at his mistakes. Mickey teaches confidence. Pluto loyalty. I dated a girl who was sweet when she was animating Ariel, but when she started doing Cruella, she turned wicked.
Who do you think is the dirtiest or darkest Disney character? Our money is on Pooh. He’s shifty.
Tinker Bell. Definitely, Tinker Bell.
How did the experience of working at the Magic Kingdom change you?
It was an eye opener. I went in looking for a utopia that was unmarred by sadness or imperfection. Of course, I learned that nothing is perfect, and happiness is where you make it.
At what point did the idea of writing the book occur to you? Before you got there, while you were there - and saw how crazy it was - or after?
I journal out of habit, so when I noticed the bizarre turn my writings were taking, I started taking more detailed notes.
Are you afraid of what Disney might do to you for publishing this book? We hear that they don’t mess around with folks who dis the House of Mouse.
I'm being as cautious as I possibly can be, considering the wheels are in motion. At the end of the day though, I'm a starving writer; unless Disney can affect the price of ramen and mac 'n cheese, I don't have much to lose! Hold on. There's someone at the door...
Would you ever take your own kids (if you had any) to Disney World?
So what’s next? Where does one go after Disney World?
Good question. What do you know about the church of Kaballah?