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What do kids see when they meet “real life” cartoon characters?

One thing, amongst a million things, that I don’t understand about children is: what do they think when they see people dressed up in official cartoon character costumes? When kids are at the age where they can’t yet discern between fiction and reality, what exactly do they think is in front of them?

Take the photo below as an example. This is my son (at two years old) meeting a character out of the Octonauts.

What on earth is running through my son’s mind here? Look at the size of that thing! Its head is the size of the moon (the Octonaut, not my son). According to the cartoon, he is strong enough to lift a giant clam. Of course he is.

My son clearly doesn’t know there is a sweaty irritable man or woman in that costume parading around as a sea loving, ocean protecting, polar bear. So, does my son actually think this is the real Captain Barnacles (e.g. the equivalent of meeting a celeb in real life)?

If my son does think Captain Barnacles is real, why does he not freak out at the thought of a mute 10 foot plush moon-headed behemoth towering over him? Given the fact that my son is scared of the white pithy stuff in oranges, this is bewildering. On the other hand, if my son doesn’t think it is the real Captain Barnacles, what does he think he is looking at? It is all very strange.

What do you think? Feel free to let me know your thoughts.

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