If you are anything like me a Disney trip is the successful culmination of a series of lists. Ranging from the restaurant list and ride list to the must have merch list, there is even a list list to govern all the other lists, a bit like the one ring in Lord of the Rings. The lists are written up in rough, and then copied up neatly in a special holiday planning book, all ready for crossing out as each item is accomplished. One of the lists is the meet and greet list, a special list with two sub lists, the easy to get list, and then there is the wish list – containing the characters you rarely or never see. This is the list that holds Chip N Dale in Rescue Rangers outfits, Mary Poppins and Gaston (don’t start singing it!). A regular on my meet & greet list was Captain Hook. Hook would prove to be an advertised character during our visit in early 2020, so my first job was to update my list, moving Hook from ‘wish list’ to ‘achievable’.
We found Hook under two parasols in Adventureland with the stunning pirate ship and skull rock as the backdrop. We joined the small queue, just 30 or so people, and noticed that everyone was smiling a little more enthusiastically than people in a queue normally do. We quickly realised why, about 3 families back from Hook was… another Hook, a young lad of 7 dressed head to foot as the scarlet pirate. Everyone was living vicariously through this child, this charming scene of a youngster who was dressed as his favourite character. In 2020 to see a 7 year old whose favourite hero wasn’t Iron Man, Harry Kane or someone from Tik Tok seemed less likely than finding those Rescue Rangers! We all waited patiently and expectantly, not for our turn but for this budding buccaneer. We were collectively ushering the families in front of the boy Obi Wan Kenobi style to move along so we could witness this collision of Christmas Day, Crackerjack and Cameo. After what felt like an eternity, well five minutes, it was the young lad’s turn, and he didn’t disappoint.
He rushed at Hook showing off his costume, Hook pointed out his/their pirate ship in the distance, they compared hooks and took a million (maybe 20) photographs in every pose you could imagine, his parents filming the whole experience at the same time. Hook himself was clearly over the moon to meet his effervescent mini me, inside his mask I could imagine the cast member grinning thinking “suck it Spiderman this one’s mine”, or perhaps more accurately “Suck it spiderman celui-ci est pour moi”. The young Hook ran around, enjoying the attention of his idol and he refused to leave. No one in the queue cared how long it took, it was this boy’s moment with his hero, this was Disney magic in full effect, simply put you just don’t get this at Pontins. Eventually young Hook left and the families in the queue all chatted about how nice it was for him.
There is a Westlife style key change here, where this story gets off its stool and does something unexpected, for those utterly charmed by the story so far it may be time to look away…
As the queue progressed a first and then second family had their Hook photos. The second family was interrupted by a child they didn’t know who rushed in under the barrier, a child dressed as Peter Pan! Peter Pan seemed to have the same parents as mini Hook, Peter Pan was mini Hook. Mini Hook had performed a costume change in a speed that would have made Superman proud. As Peter Pan fiercely smacked Hook’s leg with a sword while the parents filmed it I had to stifle a moustache twirl and my own shriek of “curses Pan!” As enchanted as everyone was 5 minutes ago the queue now experienced shared annoyance, the whole thing had been manufactured by the parents to create a funny video. What was once charming now seemed precocious and staged. A family had had their meet and greet disrupted, we in the queue had precious and innocent assumptions shattered, but worst of all I felt for the cast member. Hook’s bruised shin aside, he had given so much energy to the boy, to see him return as the character’s nemesis was brutal. I could only imagine a tear trickling down the character’s face… The other cast members ushered the parents and Peter Pan away and the family whose turn it was resumed their meet and greet without further interruption.
Now even as a grown man I do admit I get nervous at the meet and greets, there is something so iconic and vivid about the character faces I genuinely get drawn into it and often go a bit timid, fluffing the one or two things I had intended to say. After the chaos of Peter Pan’s switcheroo I wanted to give something back to Hook. I didn’t have time to whip up a 5 paragraph semi witty facebook post so I did the next best thing. In front of anyone who cared to listen I put on my best pirate voice and channelled pre-GCSE drama classes. I hopped into the meet and greet and told Hook my name was “Cap’n Foot” on account of having a hook for a foot, I “oooh arrred” and “me heartied” my way through the next few minutes. I told him he was the best pirate in the seven seas and as I hugged him (it was pre pandemic) I quietly thanked him for everything he does, this resulted in Hook giving me a ‘we’re not worthy’ gesture in a moment of mutual recognition.
It turns out that Hook did meet someone that day who was a massive fan of his, it just wasn’t the person who had dressed like him (wow it turns out writing for the Goldbergs is probably easier than I’d imagined). I was happy to cross a previously elusive name off my meet and greet list like Disneyland’s answer to Arya Stark and for two minutes I was a pirate’s best friend in what was possibly my favourite interaction with a character so far. I vow never to be nervous around a character again (except for Darth Vader) and I am practicing my best (worst) cockney accent for the time I eventually meet Meeeary Poppuns and cross another name off that list.