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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: November 2020

5 - Of Mice and Minions : ‘Ani-embodiment’ and ‘Metonymic Celebrity’ in the Theme Park Character Encounter

Summary

Abstract

This chapter explores the activity of meeting characters within theme parks which provides the opportunity to meet recognizable ‘stars’ from Disney (such as the Princesses and Villains) or Universal (including Shrek, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons and the Minions). It considers how meeting characters provides an avenue for adult fans to present their own preferences regarding characters, films or brands despite their awareness that these characters are not ‘real’. It argues that theme park meet-and-greets necessitate complex negotiations of immersion, participation and affective attachment. Introducing the concepts of ani-embodiment and metonymic celebrity, the chapter explores what it means to view character interactions as forms of celebrity encounter, and how this complicates established dichotomies of ordinary/celebrity, star/character, and live-action/animation.

Keywords: celebrity, ani-embodiment, metonymic celebrity, immersion, theme park characters, meet-and-greets

Introduction

This chapter explores the activity of meeting characters within theme parks which provides the opportunity to meet recognizable ‘stars’ from Disney media (such as the Princesses and Villains) or Universal properties (including Shrek, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons and the Minions). It has been argued that the chance to meet Disney characters operates as another way in which its child audiences are indoctrinated into both commercial and celebrity cultures (Merlock Jackson, 2011) and a similar point could be applied to the Universal Studios characters. However, this chapter instead argues that the opportunity to meet characters offers an important aspect of adult fan interaction with theme park spaces, providing another avenue for fans to present their own preferences regarding characters, films or brands. Drawing on work on the ‘virtual star’ (Hills 2003) and ‘digital stardom’ (King 2011) this chapter considers the importance of theme park meet-and-greets, and argues that these necessitate complex negotiations of immersion, participation and affective attachment. As with traditional celebrity encounters, fans may experience excitement, nervousness or disappointment after meeting a theme park character (Ferris and Harris 2011). Such practices also threaten a potential desecration of the notion of what celebrity itself means; since the characters are costumed actors it is not they who are objects of adoration but the fictional figures they stand in for, allowing them to function as a form of ‘metonymic celebrity’ and, in the case of characters from animated films, as ‘ani-embodied characters’ or celebrities.

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