The ridiculous and heartbreaking reality of playing Goofy at Disney World

Published December 9, 2016 by lagmen
Disney World

A 20-year career playing Goofy came to a screeching halt for one employee at Walt Disney World after he dragged Donald Duck across the floor following an altercation over an autograph. (Goofy had signed his name on a park-goer’s Donald Duck hat. Donald was not having it.)

The stakes are high in Disney’s character department, which employs the exuberant people who greet and entertain visitors dressed as beloved characters like Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto at Disney’s largest theme park—Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

A Reddit AMA yesterday with the man who was the aforementioned ousted-Goofy (and his real-life dog Max, named after the fictional Goofy’s pet) shed some light on the reality of playing one of these characters, day in and day out, and on the hottest of summer days. Some of the former Goofy’s claims, like having his life threatened at an event, were downright disturbing, but the majority reinforced the magic of the renowned Disney park.

Reddit has a fairly rigorous process for verifying people who conduct AMAs, or Ask Me Anythings, but Quartz has not independently verified Goofy’s identity. The user, who goes by the Reddit name “Ihaveanotheridentity,” offered more than a dozen photos of himself playing Goofy—some without the mask on—and other roles at the park. The moderators said they also verify AMA identities through a confidential process that is “much more rigorous and requires unequivocal proof.”

Goofy—let’s just call him that—said he worked at Walt Disney World for over 25 years in various roles including guest relations and as a tour guide. He said he transferred to the character department in 1996, where he played Goofy for the remainder of his time at the company. (Disney did not immediately return Quartz’s request for confirmation.)

Here’s Goofy’s full account of his fateful, final interaction with Donald:

I was fired. To make a complicated story short, Donald Duck was, as usual, being a jerk and wouldn’t leave my area because I had signed “Luv, Goofy” right over the bill of a Donald Duck hat. He threw a temper tantrum and as I was dragging him across the floor to get him back to his position a little kid ran out from behind the curtain at Pete’s Silly Sideshow and we knocked her on her butt. The kid was fine and no one complained but Disney didn’t really appreciate me dragging the costume on the carpeted floor so they terminated me…

That’s a long and painful story. Disney still has no idea the pain and trauma that caused. There were other reasons I think I was not brought back, one of them being terrible legal advise from a lawyer I sought out before my final arbitration. I was also sort of a whistle-blower and I think that played a big role.

During the AMA, Redditors asked some important questions. What’s the weirdest request you’ve ever gotten from a visitor? “A guy once asked me to choke him for a picture (I didn’t).” How do you survive on hot summer days? “Practice, actually. It was absolute torture the first month (and especially the first parade) but after a few months I got used to it and after a few years I would forget I had the costume on.”

And some of the answers were quite revealing: “In Goofy, you have to look down in order to make it look like Goofy is looking at you.”

Other answers reiterated the powerful role Disney World plays in people’s lives. Goofy recounted a story of an older man who, shaking and near tears, gave him a pin that belonged to a friend of his who was a veteran. Goofy calls it one of his most prized possessions. He also wrote of a time when he held a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation who was born with a birth defect that left no muscles in his neck. The boy’s wish was simply to be held by Goofy.

The most heartbreaking story, by far, was of Goofy’s inspiration for the joining the character department.

When working in another role at the park, he was asked to refund the tickets of two young girls who were accompanied by nurses from a nearby hospital. The girls were visiting from overseas and their parents were killed in a car crash on the way back from the park. The girls needed the money from the tickets to get back home. The rest of the story, which you can read in full here, is incredibly touching and ends with every character from the Mickey Mania Parade working to put a smile on the girls’ faces.

As for Goofy’s feelings about Disney World after many years and all that transpired: “Loved it then and I love it now.”

Feature images by MediumHero6 via Flicker, licensed under CC by 2.0.

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