‘You must get great reception with those,’ said Mickey Mouse to a Mouse Ears-sporting attendee at the 2011 D23 Expo which took place last weekend. Gradually he stepped further away from the guest, asking the inevitable ‘can you hear me now?’ question over and over.
This is just one of the many interactions that took place at the D23 Expo in which guests got their first public, announced opportunity to speak with Mickey Mouse for the first time since Disneyland introduced the meet and greet character, decades ago.
There were actually two variations of the Talking Mickey presented to the audience, the first being a ‘live’ version which could freely converse with guests. Available on Saturday, he was replaced by what what’s affectionately referred to as the ‘Soundboard Mickey’ on Sunday, which is when we were able to catch up with him. This version of Mickey operates with a limited set of phrases with which to respond to guests’ inquiries as well as move the meet and greet along by suggesting that they all take group photos. We stress the word photos because the obvious appeal to Talking Mickey in the day when most everyone has a camera or phone that records video, the video is certainly a more desirable alternative and, in fact, Imagineering seems to be pushing the idea of both video and photos when meeting Mickey.
Although video footage of moments of awkwardness have made their way onto YouTube before, this is the biggest workout Mickey has gotten to date and after observing just thirty minutes of it, we walked away with about ten minutes we’d like to share.
What we witnessed, which was undoubtedly a huge milestone and technical achievement for Walt Disney Imagineering, was bittersweet. The largest disappointment, ironically enough, was simply that the number of children coming to see Mickey was minimal simply because he effectively did not exist outside Imagineering’s ‘Carousel of Projects’ pavilion and thus children were dominated by adult guests who would line up for nearly an hour before his scheduled appearances.
That said, we were relieved to see that adult interaction could be just as magical (although the desire to put one’s hand in Mickey’s mouth seemed far more limited). Another positive was the array of phrases Mickey has all to accomplish the same task, as you can see by the video, when he goes to sign autographs, even jokingly reciting his grocery list at one point and offering to sign the royal decree of a child dressed as a princess.
Awkwardness was still present, however, as Mickey ‘Gee, I Don’t Know’ Mouse seems to be unable to simply say yes or no (although he certainly has his share of positive phrases). One interaction, not caught on video, had Mickey Mouse asking the adult guest what he did today. When the guest responded by saying he had been shopping, he asked Mickey if he had done any shopping as well. After a bit of a pause with silence, the guest rephrased the question, to which Mickey simply gave his ‘I don’t know’ response.
It’s clear the technology has promise, but there still seems to be a bit of a way to go before Mickey Mouse (and Pete, reportedly) start interacting with guests full time in the parks. This was further evidenced by Walt Disney Imagineering filming the entire interaction, hopefully looking for ways to improve the efficiency and coherence of Mickey’s half of the conversation. In any case, it’s very clear by the video, that most attendees of any age certainly didn’t seem to mind.
One just can’t help wonder what runs through a child’s head when Mickey doesn’t talk to them the next time they’re in the parks, however.