2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 20162017 | 2018

First Look - January 2017

Chatting Up ‘CHARACTERz’

Movie filmed around Orlando comically uncovers the lives of costumed employees 

If you’ve ever watched costumed characters being mobbed by kids out in the hot sun and wondered how they remain so calm and cheerful, then you need to see “CHARACTERz.” With the playful tagline “Long hours. Lousy pay. No respect. Best. Job. Ever.” the comedy film takes a masks-off look at the realities of the jobs of “fuzzy” characters, but also celebrates the charm and fun that comes with the work.

The independent film, released last summer, follows the ups and downs of Tucker Ostroswki (played by Mitchell Musso of “Hanna Montana” fame), who dreams of becoming a theme-park designer but starts out as Hoppy the Kangaroo, a costumed character at Old Time Fun Town. Tucker becomes infatuated with Samantha, another costumed character who is cute, beguiling, and clever—and definitely someone he wants to impress.

“CHARACTERz” was filmed at Old Town in Kissimmee, Florida, near Orlando, and nearby Gatorland. The movie is a production of Renaissance Entertainment, which is a partnership of Jon Binkowski and Lisa Enos Smith. The two co-wrote the movie and drew from their past employment experiences at theme parks. Binkowski worked for SeaWorld San Diego for many years in the 1970s, including time as a costumed character, and Smith worked at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in the late 1980s.

“I have lots of stories from my two years as a costumed character,” says Binkowski, “and a lot of them are relived in the movie. There’s a time when Hoppy gets completely inundated by a bunch of red-shirted kids—a busload of campers—and they corner him and unzip his costume and are all over him, and that exact thing happened to me!”

On selecting lead actor Tucker, Smith says, “We looked at a lot of people, and Mitchell Musso was the first choice of our teenaged daughters because of his role on ‘Hannah Montana.’ Our intent is not to make fun of the costumed characters. We look at this movie as a love letter to the theme park industry. Anything we work on has a sweetness to it. It might get a little edgy, but we stay with family entertainment. The lead character was inspired by people who come into this industry.” 

Binkowski recalls a surprising occurrence during fundraising for the movie: “We did some initial crowdfunding and got about 10 percent of our budget. The donations were small—$25 or $50. Then all of a sudden we received a huge donation, and it was the company that provided the costumes, Mask U.S. They turned out to be a great partner.”

Though “CHARACTERz” is Renaissance Entertainment’s third film, the company is best known for creating and producing attractions for the themed entertainment industry, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Universal Studios, and Chimelong. Binkowski and Smith screened the film for about 700 attendees at IAAPA Attractions Expo 2015.

“Their reaction was great,” says Binkowski. “These were seasoned industry veterans, but so many of them talked to us about their first jobs as characters. It definitely was a fond and fun memory for so many!”

“CHARACTERz” was officially released in July 2016 and received positive viewer feedback on websites like IMDb, iTunes, and Amazon, and is available from a variety of movie sources.