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Disneyland Article
Are Disneyland Characters Too Big For Kids

Orange County Register
Robert Niles
December 23, 2016
January 07, 2017
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I could see a slight sneer pass across the face of my teenage daughter as we walked past the line-up for a Sheriff Woody meet and greet on Paradise Pier in California Adventure a couple weeks ago.

Now, I've been covering theme parks for pretty much her entire life, so she's used to theme park crowds. So I couldn't figure out what bothered her about the queue of little kids and their parents, waiting to meet the "Toy Story" star.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

"Why would any kid want to meet that Sheriff Woody?" she responded. "He's too big."

In all my years visiting Disneyland, it never had occurred to me that the "Toy Story" characters in the park are the wrong size. But she's right. While Mickey Mouse and his friends have been portrayed as human-sized from "Steamboat Willie" on, the toys in "Toy Story" clearly are the size of normal children's toys. Andy held Woody and Buzz in him arms in the movies. They didn't tower over him, as they do the children who come to meet them at Disneyland.

My daughter's question finally helped me realize exactly why she collapsed onto the ground, sobbing, when I brought her to meet her beloved Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland when she was 4 years old. She refused even to look at Buzz, a character she dressed up as for Halloween and whose doll she carried with her constantly back then, imploring me to "talk like Buzz."

When I told her we were going to meet the real Buzz Lightyear, she thought she was going to see the talking doll from the movies, not a 6-foot-something walk-around character that looks like he could play linebacker in the NFL.

OK, we in the Niles family clearly like to nit-pick on our theme park visits. The vast majority of kids who go meet Buzz and Woody at Disneyland have no problem with the characters' sizes and enjoy their moment to be wrapped up in their big embrace.

But could Disneyland make a "real" Buzz Lightyear or Sheriff Woody? Ones that were the same scale as the characters were portray in the movies ... but that moved and maybe even talked with park guests?

Disney has developed a talking Mickey Mouse character for its meet and greets in Orlando. It's also developed an accurately scaled Lumiere animatronics for a "Beauty and the Beast" encounter in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. What if Disney could combine that technology to make a Buzz Lightyear-sized Buzz to meet his fans?

My son, the tech whiz in the family, jumped in to start talking about putting an off-stage character performer in a motion-capture suit that would send the electronic signals that could move the Buzz figurine, so that it would appear to move in response to visitors, whom the character performer would see and hear through an on-stage hidden camera and microphone.

(He didn't know that, in a much cruder form, basically that was how early Disney Imagineers would "program" the movement of the first Audio Animatronics, using mechanisms that captured their movements to sequence how the animatronics then would move when performing.)

The character performer could talk with the guests, too, through microphones and a speaker in the Buzz figure. If you want to get really fancy, perhaps Disney could program a synthesizer to transform the performer's voice into something that sounded more like Tim Allen, who voiced Buzz in the films, or Patrick Warburton, who voiced Buzz for television.

Of course, kids want to touch Buzz and Woody, so the figurines would have to be engineered to get close to guests, offering a handshake or fist bump. That's likely the devil in the details of making such a thing happen, but I've got to admit, my kids and I got way too excited talking about all the possibilities.

That's one of the wonders of visiting theme parks, isn't it - the way they bring families together? Even families of tech-geek nitpickers like mine.
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