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The life behind Times Square cartoon characters

March 29, 2015

Times Square, with its fast-moving crowds and bright billboards, appears as something of a surprise to those who aren’t paying attention as they walk in from the adjoining side streets.

Its famous billboards tower over the street, with a Revlon ad attracting a large amount of attention. The screen displays images of part of the Times Square crowd, using feed from a street-level camera. As it zooms in, a kiss cam countdown appears, and people shove each other in an attempt to be on the screen.

In the open space across from the New York Police Department (NYPD) booth, people dressed as characters from Despicable Me, Sesame Street, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Toy Story and other movies roam around to take pictures with tourists, specifically the younger ones, in hopes of receiving tips.

Characters dressed as Elmo and Minnie Mouse move around Times Square. Their goal is to take pictures with tourists to earn tips.
Sahana Srinivasan
Characters dressed as Elmo and Minnie Mouse move around Times Square. Their goal is to take pictures with tourists to earn tips.

A person dressed as Olaf, from the Disney film “Frozen”, begins his day outside Toys “R” Us, and eventually makes his way to the opposite end of the square. Mickey Mouse and Iron Man also patrol over the area for a chance of making money.

Outside McDonald’s, a woman dressed as Minnie Mouse approaches tourists with her arms extended.

Whenever she poses for a picture with someone, another woman wearing an Elmo costume quickly joins in. Immediately after, both characters request a tip before moving on to find more visitors.

Under the Minnie Mouse costume is a middle-aged woman named Ana from the state of Puebla in east-central Mexico. She lives with her two daughters and two sons in New Jersey.

Ana usually arrives at Times Square at 1 p.m. after driving for approximately one hour, depending on traffic. Around 10 p.m. she heads home with another one hour drive.

Before deciding to dress as Minnie Mouse and work in Times Square, Ana worked in a factory as a housekeeper for various hotels.

According to Ana, between 400 and 500 people come to take a picture with her everyday.

“People come take a picture [but] pay no money,” she said.

The Times Square Website indicates that tourists who take pictures with the characters are not required to pay them as they are not officially licensed.

Ana makes up to $100 on some days; she often drives home with only $20 in her pocket. She relies on tips to make money to support her family.

Though her job does not have a steady pay and is far from her home, Ana enjoys dressing up as Minnie Mouse and taking pictures with tourists in Times Square.


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