Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir by Chris Mitchell

Chris Mitchell had it all, and then lost it all in a very short period of time. He went from being an acclaimed sports photographer who was about to marry the woman he loved, and in a short span of time lost his job and lost his girl to one of his best friends. On top of it all, he found out his mother had cancer and was dying, and worst of all she didn't want him or anyone else to know about it.

Needing to get out of California and clear his head, Chris headed for Florida, where he saw a sign advertising a job at Disneyland taking pictures. It was an unlikely job choice for someone who wore a labret piercing and a goatee, and was cynical about the world. Disney has a very definite look for their employees, and Chris in no way fit the look. Even the guy he interviewed called him on why he was applying there. Chris, in a moment of reflection, said he was looking for something magic in his life, and was hired.

But Chris didn't know what he was letting himself in for. Disney projects a clean corporate image and sets itself up as a family place, a place where nobody dies on the property and once on the park grounds, everyone is happy, cheery and family safe and friendly. But Chris was soon to find out that the looks don't match the deeper undercurrents of the park. He was warned before he entered that none of the longtime employees was what they seemed- that to work for Disney and always keep your mask on while in the park took some employees that were seriously twisted, but he ignored their words. And unlike other Disney employees, who had to sign non-disclosure agreements before they could work in the park, he was employed as a contractor by an outside company, and so he didn't have to sign the same agreement.

The first thing he discovered was that there was a distinct hierarchy of workers at the park. At the bottom were the people who never left the tunnels beneath the park (although tunnels is a misnomer, since these are actually at ground level, and the level of the park where the performers perform and all the rides are located is actually on the second level)- the park is built 10 feet off the ground. At the top of the Pyramid are the performers, the ones who go outside in costumes and play the different characters. There are two types of performers- fur (characters whose human faces are covered- usually animal characters, but also characters like Buzz Lightyear) and face characters (people who play the human characters who only wear makeup and are able to talk). Face Characters rank higher than fur, and performers who play the Princesses are the Elite.

Not liked at first, Chris slowly worked his way up through taking a series of "scandalous" (for Disney) phototgraphs involving the performers. This upped his cred to the point where he was literally dripping in girls, but he wanted more. He fell in love with Calico, a girl who performed as Ariel, while getting involved in the drug and sex fuelled underworld of Disney, as well as that of the "Other" company, Universal.

But in the end, it all came to naught. After a year with Disney, a co-worker used the same photos that powered Chris's meteoric rise up the social ladder of his friends and co-workers to get him fired, and Chris's relationship with Calico also proved to be ephemeral due to her own personality quirks. Chris left to return home, re-asserting the personality he'd abandoned to Disney's corporate machine on the way.

This book is filled with stories that will both shock and delight you, filling you in on the true underworld and what goes on in Disney behind the scenes when the guests aren't watching and can't see, from liquor and drug-filled orgies to a gay roommate who wanted to live out his dreams of fronting an all-gay boy band, to the costumed performer who would spend his time in his Pooh costume masturbating unseen by the crowds around him, you will find the truth of Disney illustrated in living color.

This book is definitely not boring or staid, and the stories are shocking and will make you laugh. The Biggest thing I got out of this book is that I would never want to work for Disney in any capacity. I am simply boring and not into Drugs or Booze like the characters (and I use that term loosely) in this book are.

I really enjoyed this book. I have not only been to Disney many times, but I had a penpal who worked on the Pirates of the Carribean Ride back when I was a teenager (well, we were both teenagers, but still), and I have no doubt that all the stories in this volume are true. You can't force people into a very narrowly defined set of rules and behaviors without expecting them to have an equally stronger backlash when they are off the job.

I would definitely recommend this book with the caveat that you are unlikely to ever want to work at Disney, ever, after reading this. You may not even want to go there again. Or you may be delighted with this look behind the scenes and want to read similar works.