While interacting with theme park guests, a performer is apt to hear the same three or four comments from just about everyone they meet. After all, the guests are reacting to the same thing in the same environment… and people really are the same all over.
These days, although I’m no longer on the job, I hear the same comment from almost everyone: “When are they going to bring back the Dreamfinder?”
And I keep trying to ‘pivot’ (a term I’ve learned in these politically-charged times) to a more realistic and relevant topic: “When are we going to see a new character who can engage and inspire us the way Dreamfinder did?”
Well, the search is over. I’ve found her; someone whose story serves as an inspiring example of how the individual spirit within us can make our lives more fulfilling and our world a better place.
And she’s a red head.
The star of Disney/Pixar’s Brave is a rebellious young princess who refuses to yield to the limiting expectations of her family. When she refuses to acquiesce to their plans for her future, she learns about choice, consequences and what it means to love unconditionally.
When we first meet Merida she is already a princess with considerable charm and talent. She is an accomplished horseman and archer who is just starting to come into her own as a member of the royal family.
But the life path her parents have planned for her doesn’t suit her. She rebels early in the film, and the challenges that follow test her resolve and their patience.
Coming out of the cinema I was struck by the courage it took for the folks at Pixar to take on such a story. Like Merida, they were challenging the expectations of those who loved them… their fans, who had come to expect certain things from a Pixar film. In that sense, choosing to tell this story was brave indeed.
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My next thought was about the lucky ladies who would bring Merida to life in the Disney parks.
They have been handed a wonderful opportunity. Not merely to meet millions of fans, sign thousands of autographs and appear in an unimagined number of cherished photos. These women have it in their power to change lives…
If we give them just a little time.
Of course Merida’s time is precious and will be regulated by the Disney character machine and its minions. There will be a line of people, parents with agendas and children with doubts and fears and questions… and all must be handled efficiently, so as to satisfy everyone’s needs as quickly as possible.
But, as the storytellers at Pixar would tell you, Merida has more to share with the children she meets than just her image and signature.
I hope Merida finds something in each group that relates to the themes in her story. If a child steps up by themselves, commend their bravery. If they’re wearing something that makes them stand out from the rest of the family, remark on their rugged individualism.
If the child carries a weapon, encourage the group to praise the child’s skill in protecting them from marauders. Perhaps a younger sibling or a stuffed animal can be identified as something the child captured and tamed in their travels.
Parents are usually delighted to step up and participate in these mind games. (I was standing in line at the Main Street Candy Co. years ago behind a father and daughter; she was wearing a princess gown, a pirate hat and an eye patch. When I asked Dad whether she was a princess or a pirate, he whispered, “She’s a blond.”)
By engaging the group Merida is not only setting them up with a premise that can play itself out over the course of the day, but she’s also amusing the next few groups waiting in line. They’ll appreciate the diversion, and it may inspire them to kick start the next interaction using their own imaginations.
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One of the things I miss most about my days dreamfinding were those moments I shared with a child exclusive of the rest of their group. The times they could tell I was there for them exclusively and personally… that I saw wonders in them the others hadn’t spotted yet. Walt used to make me feel like that when I watched him on TV growing up. I loved passing that on to the kids I met; and, judging by the way Dreamfinder is remembered decades later, it must have stuck.
Merida, I envy you this new opportunity to engage the guests and inspire the children you’ll meet. Don’t let the lowered expectations of those who see you only as a ‘photo op’ deny you this thrill…