South Florida Parenting
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A theme park character study: New places to wait

I’m behind with my meeting and greeting of theme-park characters. Chatting with fictional furry folk is not my forte. It feels goofy with a lower-case g to ask Goofy with an upper-case G how’s the weather up there, G?

I recognize that I may be in the minority in these parts. Often, I hear breathless accounts of events that include an excited “and there were characters there.”

There are exceptions for whole collections (all those dwarfs, the entire Scooby-Doo gang), and I’m willing to hop into a very short queue. That’s how I had my moment with a Fairy Godmother and Spider-Man – on different occasions, of course, although F.G. does have some Aunt May about her, right?

So, recently, I splurged and checked out new-ish character encounters. First up: Universal Studios, where they’ve doubled up on those mischievious minions meet-ups. Standing between the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem attraction and the entrance to Hollywood Rip Ride Rocket roller coaster is a small jail-cell set. It’s just big enough for a couple of pinstripe-clad minions and guests.

It’s a cute premise, tied to “Despicable Me 3,” which opened last weekend. The location is a little tight, and the traffic to Rockit interferes with the sightlines and camera angles.

Three more minions, plus reformed villain Gru from the films, came out for photos back in the KidZone section of the park. The queue is next to the Animal Actors theater, and I observed that more kids found these characters to be huggable than the ones upfront. There was lots of high-fiving, too.

In both locations, visitors did not line up in advance. But when the characters appeared, there was a swarm of interest. A line formed quickly and the team members started turning people away soon thereafter. These minion meets are scheduled to remain at Universal through Aug. 19.

At lunchtime, I moved to Disney Springs to meet a non-Disney character: the polar bear mascot of Coca-Cola.

This guy is taller than your average bear character and wears a long red scarf in his hideaway on the second floor of the Coca-Cola Store. He’s tucked in a stark white room with a photographer. It appears everyone gets three standard poses, including a thumbs-up one and then with paws in attack position.

He’s fairly realistic as mascots go — not cartoony. Maybe the scarf makes him less alarming.

At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, an outdoor meeting spot is currently home for Cruz Ramirez, a character introduced in “Cars 3,” which opened in theaters last month. She’s parked in Pixar Place, way down by the construction of future Hollywood Studios attractions, which they aren’t really hiding at all. Is Cruz a lure?

The line for the “Cars” star moves quickly. I think folks don’t feel right hugging her, and she’s not very interactive. There’s a loop of Cruz talking, but it goes off every so often and not in response to who’s standing there. Mainly, you hear the movie’s soundtrack (Thank you, Shazam app, for informing me that the song’s title was “Drip Pan” by John Williams.)

Still, I like the notion of posing next to a life-size “Cars” character, and the pictures strike me as a little otherworldly.

Finally, Hollywood Studios visitors can come face-to-face with Star-Lord of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and baby Groot. This experience, which isn’t listed on the park guide or the website, is in the back of the One Man’s Dream attraction.

The queue design is so that you can’t see the desired characters ahead of time; they’re tantalizingly set up around the corner. Once you get there, the set-up is nice, resembling a movie set. Star-Lord is a “face” character – a real, live, non-fuzzy actor -- very energetic and personable. Ah, but here’s where I begin to feel stupid. I have nothing to say to Star-Lord. This. Isn’t. Real. This. Isn’t. Chris. Pratt.

Groot is a mere twig of himself in the display. The figure is somewhere in the family of Lumiere at Magic Kingdom’s Enchanted Tales With Belle or the departed “Ratatouille” animatronic that Disney once rolled out at Epcot’s Chefs de France restaurant.

And he’s chatty. Great. We’re out of here.

dbevil@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5477

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