To my oldest son’s delight, the first Cars 3 teaser trailer was released in November of last year. The first 21 seconds were spent fiercely studying the details of the cars whipping by. Then his face dropped as he watched his hero shatter into pieces and heard his haunting breath coming from the speaker. To say he was horrified would be an understatement. “Is Lightning dead?”
Then on December 27, it was my turn to be horrified as I heard of the passing of my favorite actress, Carrie Fisher. As an adult I admired her writing skills, her wit, and her strength to speak up about difficult issues. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mourning the loss of her iconic character, Princess Leia, as well. I felt a wave of guilt as I processed what this meant for the character that I have loved my entire life.
These recent events led me to question why we are so attached to our favorite fictional characters. I thought about the Character Dining experiences and long waits for the Character Meet and Greets at the Disney Parks. Those are huge considerations for many guests as they plan their vacations. Why is it so important for us to engage with fictional characters through books, movies, merchandise and experiences?
Many times we connect with a character in childhood that displays qualities we admire, desire, or find interesting. My son is a car guy through and through, so his attachment to Lightning McQueen makes sense. Other kids are attracted to the same character for their own reasons. Many like Mickey Mouse because he’s sweet, Elsa because she has “cool” powers, or Mary Poppins for her motherly charm. I had older brothers and I knew my hero could hold her own next to theirs.
Go The Distance
Underdogs aren’t just for football. Like a sporting event, it’s exciting to watch a movie that features a character you want to cheer on to defeat the odds. Elsa was hidden away most of her life. Aurora was cursed. Jack Sparrow was misunderstood. And almost every other Disney character has suffered the tragic loss of at least one parent. I’m sure there are many extremely riveting essays out there from sociologists about why we love the underdog. Personally, I think it’s because we see their success as affirmation that we also can overcome obstacles.
You’ve Got a Friend In Me
Engaging with a fictional character gives us a connection with other people who share our affection. Kids are sometimes misunderstood as greedy or jealous when they want something their friend or classmate has. It isn’t always a case of the “gimmes”. Often they see it as a way to connect with another child. They want to have something in common. Just look at the community on The DIS! You’d be hard pressed to find a Mickey Mouse hater in this bunch.
Circle of Life
Quite possibly the most compelling reason for our attachment is the sentimental reminder of a happy time in our lives. We tend to hang on to souvenirs, photographs, old letters and seemingly random objects because they evoke feelings of nostalgia. Our relationship to fictional characters is no different. As adults, we aren’t meeting Mickey Mouse because we believe he’s truly a living creature that cares about us. Rather, we are reminiscing about a time or feeling we want to remember.
Our world of entertainment would appear much differently if Walt Disney had not persevered in creating a new cartoon character after losing the rights to Oswald The Lucky Rabbit. It seems Disney knew that the key to success in animation was to produce characters people would have an affinity for. That bond with these fictional characters can be witnessed every day in the Disney Parks on the faces of the young and young at heart. What endears your favorite characters to you?
"What fun thing should we do next?" When Liz discovered that this was the hardest question she'd have to answer on a Disney vacation, she was hooked. And it prompted her to keep adding fun to her life. Having two boys and a fun-loving husband made it easy to dive into LEGO building, Star Wars culture, and all things Disney! You can find her creating content on these subjects, as well as helping others get the most out of their Disney vacations.