I learned an important lesson during three days at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Magic Kingdom last week: Masks are not magical.
Yes, every guest to Walt Disney World is required to wear a mask (I had to wear a traditional surgical mask until spending $8.99 on a lovely Minnie-themed mask). Every guest we saw — from children tucked into their strollers to seven-year-olds dressed up as Snow White — wore masks. Cast members operating the rides, serving food, and keeping the parks clean all masked up. Even members of the dreaded First Order wore masks as they barked at you on the amazing Rise of the Resistance attraction.
It wasn’t until our second day at Walt Disney World that we began to realize that perhaps Disney knows something about masks that the rest of the world has refused to admit. Masks are not magical.
As we walked the World Showcase at EPCOT, we heard a trumpet and the hoofbeats of horses. We looked up and saw Elsa with her long, platinum-blonde hair. She was waving. She was smiling. And, most notably, Elsa had apparently let her mask go.
Next, we saw Anna sitting in a white carriage. Like a silly fan, I yelled out, “Anna, you’re my favorite. I think you should be the queen.” She looked back, shrugged, and said with a hilarious expression on her face that I could see clearly, “But I am the queen.” My daughter quickly reminded me, “Dad, remember ‘Frozen 2’? Elsa abdicated the throne.”
To be honest, I’m not quite sure if that’s a sign of my cluelessness or the fact that “Frozen 2″ wasn’t as memorable as the first, but either way, I smacked my hand to my face. “Doh!”
More to the point, the only reason this conversation even took place with Anna was because, she too, was not wearing a mask. A few hours later another carriage moved by us full of the most famous Disney princesses. There was Cinderella smiling. No mask. “Sleeping Beauty’s” Aurora waving and saying “hello.” No mask.
Snow White. Jasmine. Belle. No mask. No mask. No mask.
Yes, they were all socially distant. No, I never felt unsafe. Even the next day at Magic Kingdom, from a balcony overlooking Main Street, U.S.A., we waved through our masks to characters such as Peter Pan and Wendy from below as they greeted us with smiles.
While I have no inside insights as to why Disney is not putting its princesses and other signature characters in masks, I believe it’s because they know the truth as well: Masks are not magical.
In August when my family spent three days at Universal Studios, something was taken away from the theme park’s new ”Stuntacular” when it became apparent that Jason Bourne was wearing a mask. What about Shaggy and the gang? All masked up too!
When I saw that the students from the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic performing on stage in Hogsmeade were all wearing masks, I wondered, “Wouldn’t they use magic to protect themselves from COVID-19?” But like so many other things during this pandemic, I just accepted it and moved on.
A Disney fan site took a poll this summer of its readers asking, “Should Disney World Face Characters Be Wearing Masks?” The vote was about as close as Trump versus Biden, with the responses just as polarizing.
“It’s not okay to compromise one’s health to get a picture,” said one. “It doesn’t go with their storylines. Disney doesn’t break the story,” repeated another. One argued, “It would be a good influence for the kids. If Mickey can wear a mask, so can you!” ”The last thing we need to start doing is normalizing masks for a generation of young minds,” implored one commenter.
Now, while I can certainly see both sides to this argument, I want to thank Disney for allowing its princesses to smile, as it certainly made our visit to Walt Disney World more magical. I respect Disney for preserving the magic.
During Monday’s keynote at this year’s “virtual” International Association of Amusement Parks & Attractions Conference, Josh D’Amaro, the chairman of Disney’s parks, spoke about the challenges we are facing. “Our industry is hurting,” he said, “but with the emboldened spirit that comes from the challenges of the COVID crisis, with the hope and optimism that our brand captures even in the toughest of times, let’s ask ourselves why not take our guests to the moon?”
Indeed, why not! During these difficult and challenging times, Disney remembered to stay true to its story. In fact, it was Cinderella who once said: “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”
The ability to “keep on believing” in our industry is an important lesson during these difficult times. Masks can’t hide our dreams and wishes. Now, if we can just get California’s leaders to believe in the dream too.
Geoff Thatcher is the Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Creative Principals, and is the author of “The CEO’s Time Machine.”
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