On the surface, being a costumed character in a theme park may seem like one of the worst jobs on the planet. Jumping into a fur-lined costume where you literally bake in the sun all day, roasting in your own juices, is just plain miserable. All while paying customers poke and prod you like a giant stuffed animal… all for a hair above minimum wage. Yet “Characterz,” an indie comedy film which was just released, manages to cut through the stench and abuse to find the charm, comedy and life lessons being a theme park character can bring.
I got a chance to see “Characterz” during a private screening during the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) 2015 convention. This took place in a nearby movie theater surrounded by veterans of the theme park industry and absolutely loved it. Many people who are now designers, engineers and even theme park top brass in the industry started out working the front lines and could relate to many of the themes found throughout the film.
As anyone with experience will tell you, working in a theme park poses its own unique set of challenges. You must learn the social cliques in each department, learn how to handle guests who expect the world of you and work alongside people who are far more talented than their pay grade. More often than not, you’ll find that people who are character performers do so because they want to be a part of something bigger and help bring a park to life. The movie captures the daily grind of taking on the sometimes thankless task.
“Characterz” was produced, directed and co-written by Jon Binkowski of Renaissance Entertainment, who is an attraction designer himself. While not exactly auto-biographical, Binkowski did get his start at Sea World parks playing furry versions of Sea World characters. He is now in charge of his own little theme park designing empire over at Renaissance, which we have chronicled several times here at Theme Park University.
Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, “Characterz” is told through the eyes of Tucker Ostroswki, played by Mitchell Musso (yup, from “Hanna Montana”), who decides to give theme park work a go. Begrudgingly, Tucker ends up playing Hoppy the Kangaroo at Old Time Funland, an amusement park down the road from his house. Nearly the entire movie was filmed at Old Town in Kissimmee, Florida, which was used as a Main Street for the park.
At the end of the day, “Characterz” is a heart warming coming-of-age film about a nerdy kid who learns about how a theme park operates (for better or worse) from the inside. He also discovers that his passion for art could turn into an actual career for theme park design… and that skill can even impress a girl.
Without question, Ana Eligio completely steals this film playing Samantha, who is also a costumed character at Old Time Funland and Tucker’s crush. Eligio’s Sam is everything a theme park fanboy desires: she’s intelligent, witty, charming and flat out adorable. The highlight of the film for me was watching Tucker design a homemade dark ride to impress Sam in a touching scene that actually made me tear up a bit.
“Characterz” is that great little indie theme park film that could. It’s got some great laughs, some solid performances and a heart that will make any theme park fan swoon. You can watch it via the Amazon link below or find it on other streamable services like iTunes.
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Images Copyright: Renaissance Entertainment