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A costumed character wears a costume that usually (but not always) covers the performer's face. These range from theme park "walk-around" or "meetable" characters, the mascots of corporations, schools, or sports teams to novelty act performers. Some costumes cover the performer's face; others, especially those in theme parks, may leave the performer's face visible.
In theme parks, international fairs, and festivals
Costumed characters are a major feature of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (Disney Parks),:341 the world's largest operator of theme parks, where the most ubiquitous character is Mickey Mouse, but a wide variety of characters from different media franchises are portrayed at various parks. For example:
- Disney Parks — feature approximately 250 characters:341 from Disney Studios' library of animated films, live-action films, and animated TV shows, as well as characters from Lucasfilm's Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, and The Muppets franchise. Marvel Comics characters can be found in all of their parks, except for in Florida and Japan.
- Great Wolf Resorts - feature characters like Wiley, Violet, Sammy, Oliver, Rachel and Brinley.
- Universal Parks & Resorts - feature a variety of characters from dozens of movies, TV shows, and video games. These include their own properties, like Jurassic Park, Despicable Me, and the Dreamworks Animation library, to those not owned by the company, like Harry Potter, Marvel Comics (in Florida and Japan only), The Simpsons, Nickelodeon, Peanuts and Sesame Street (the latter two in Japan only).
- Six Flags parks — feature Time-Warner's Looney Tunes cartoons, DC Comics superhero characters, and Scooby-Doo characters.
- Cedar Point, Knott's Berry Farm, and other Cedar Fair parks — feature Peanuts characters
- Kings Island, California's Great America, Kings Dominion, Carowinds, Canada's Wonderland — until recently featured Nickelodeon characters (and before that, Hanna-Barbera characters). As of 2016[update], the Peanuts characters listed above, have taken their place.
- SeaWorld Parks and Resorts - Outside of their original characters like Shamu, they have the American theme park rights to the muppets from Sesame Street. They also own the show's own theme park, Sesame Place.
Other theme parks, as well as international expositions and fairs, create their own meetable characters.
Costumed characters are intended to add to the fantasy experience by enabling visitors to encounter and interact with fictional characters, such as mascots for a company or organization. The characters are portrayed by employees in costume. Some of the costumes merely consist of clothing and makeup (e.g. Sleeping Beauty, Anna and Elsa, Batman, Captain America), while those for non-human characters generally conceal the performer entirely and include a full-head/body mask (e.g. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Bugs Bunny and his crew, Scooby-Doo, The Minions, Felix the Cat, Godzilla, Woody Woodpecker, Nature Cat, SpongeBob SquarePants, Elmo, and World Exposition characters such as Seymore D. Fair, Twipsy, and Haibao). A longstanding policy of Disney Parks is that the first category of characters, where the performer's face remains visible ("face" characters) are allowed to speak (usually on the basis of scripts carefully prepared in advance), while the second category of characters, where the face is covered ("fur" characters) are not allowed to speak, but can make a kissing sound, and can only communicate through pantomime.:343
An interesting phenomenon regularly seen at Disney Parks with costumed characters, especially "fur" characters, is that young children can become very scared at first sight, when they belatedly realize a character they may have seen only on television or in a book is much larger in person.:342–343
For human characters based on a well-known media franchise that speak with visitors, theme park operators may prepare detailed scripts covering a variety of questions regularly asked by visitors, especially young children who have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy. Performers cast in those roles are required to memorize and rehearse those scripts as part of their training, so they can learn their characters' backstories by heart and consistently respond in character to visitors.
At the largest theme parks (especially Disney Parks), popular costumed characters are often accompanied by one or more assistants in regular park uniforms, who handle customer service, security, and crowd control. This minimizes the necessity for performers to break character to deal with those kinds of issues. When a performer really needs a break (as staying in character is hard work), they simply give a prearranged signal, and their handler will then assure patrons the character will be back momentarily.
All theme park operators that present costumed characters enforce strict character performance regulations so that performers are never seen out of character by visitors. In the case of more elaborate costumes, they are never seen "with their head off." A related rule is that performers costumed as the same character (normally to allow the other to go on break) are supposed to avoid being seen side-by-side by the public.
The Japanese name for costumed performers is kigurumi (着ぐるみ). The name comes from the Japanese verb kiru (着る to wear) and noun nuigurumi (ぬいぐるみ stuffed toy). Japan's kawaii aesthetic means that mascots are commonly used for promotional purposes. These mascots are often constructed with an appearance that is more chibi than Western mascots, with a massive head that encompasses the performer's entire upper body and the arms low on the body. Other mascots more greatly resemble anime characters.
Animegao (アニメ顔, anime face) is a type of kigurumi used to portray anime or cartoon characters. The face of the performer is fully covered with a stylized mask, and the costume of the character is worn. Animegao costumes are used both in professional stage shows and by cosplayers, sometimes called "dollers", who make custom masks of various characters. It is still a very minor part of the cosplay scene in Japan, though around 2005, it began attracting attention in other countries, including the United States, Canada, and European countries.
Current shows featuring a costumed character puppet include Big Bird of Sesame Street, Barney from Barney and Friends, and Bear of Bear in the Big Blue House. Less complicated characters include Hip Hop Harry, Yo Gabba Gabba! and TVO English Kindergarten.
In recent years, performers wearing unauthorized, counterfeit costumes of pop-culture characters such as Mickey Mouse, Elmo, SpongeBob SquarePants or Spider-Man have appeared in popular tourist destinations such as Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square. They usually pose for photos and collect (or, often, extort) tips from tourists. The 2007 documentary film Confessions of a Superhero focuses on costumed "superheroes" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Because they are not regulated or authorized, there have been many controversies and arrests involving costumed characters in Times Square.
The mascot industry is estimated at $5-million a year. Toronto, Canada, is one of the hubs in the industry, with six major firms headquartered out of the city. Knock-off costumes are fabricated in, among other places, Peru.
- Bob Sehlinger; Len Testa (2014). The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014. Birmingham, AL: Keen Communications. ISBN 9781628090000.
- Six Flags entertainment website
- Camp Snoopy at Cedar Point Archived 2008-02-16 at the Wayback Machine
- Camp Snoopy at Knott's Berry Farm Archived 2008-02-09 at the Wayback Machine
- Nickelodeon Universe at Kings Island Archived 2008-02-29 at the Wayback Machine
- Nickelodeon Central at California's Great America Archived 2008-02-19 at the Wayback Machine
- Robbins, Christopher. "Are The Costumed Grifters Of Times Square Diluting Disney's Brand?" Archived 2013-05-11 at the Wayback Machine, Gothamist (June 19, 2011).
- Lysiak, Matt. "Sick, touchy Elmo returns to Times Square, back to old antics as he scares parents and kids," New York Daily News (October 24, 2010).
- "Character builders". Maclean's. Toronto ON: Rogers Media. 28 July 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2011.
- Semple, Kirk. "Spider-Man Unmasked! Elmo and Minnie, Too: The Lives Behind Times Square Cartoon Characters," New York Times (AUG. 2, 2014).