Long before she was Executive Producer of Relevancy Activations for Walt Disney Imagineering, like many people, Charita Carter‘s first exposure to all things Disney was through television. Growing up in Southern California, 150 miles from Disneyland, she watched The Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday evening, looking forward to the day when she would actually experience it at the park in Anaheim.
“It was aspirational to go to Disneyland,” she recalls. “We would go every once in a while. My dad and mom always took the opportunity to use it as a time to teach us values. We’d have to save up for our own spending money, so we’d go out and get our little jobs and everything. We’d have to plan.”
Once at the park, the money Carter and her two sisters made ahead of the trip was supplemented with $20 from their dad. They took a family photo in front of the train every time they visited, creating a tradition she cherished as a kid.
As an adult, the Disney magic she appreciated as a child reappeared, shaking up the mundanity of her everyday work as an accountant.
“I worked for a company as an accountant that literally was across the street from Walt Disney Imagineering,” Carter says. Imagineering is the part of The Walt Disney Company that is responsible for the creation of Disney theme parks and attractions around the world. (A side note, it’s currently spearheaded by a Black woman named Barbara Bouza.) “We were subletting a building from the Disney company and we would hear all kinds of stuff happening across the street. There were flight tests and mockups and things exploding and water shooting up in the air, just all kinds of stuff. And I used to always wonder, What in the world is going on over there?”
Carter would have the chance to find out. When her company was bought out and she was looking for a new opportunity, a friend who was a financial analyst working for Disney Imagineering encouraged her to apply for one of their accounting positions (because Imagineering isn’t solely creative jobs of course).
The day of her interview, she overheard the CFO speaking with two individuals who worked in accounting. They were making the transition to creative. The idea of such a thing sounded unorthodox to Carter.
“I had never heard of anything like that,” she recalls. “I remember thinking to myself, How in the world do you go to school, have an area of expertise and experience and have an opportunity to showcase that you have other skills? It planted a little seed and little did I know in about a 10-year span, that would be my story.”
After working as an accountant for Imagineering for two years, doing the ledgers and closing the books, she was approached about being a financial analyst for the creative division. After initially being hesitant, she surprised herself by excelling in the role. “I was just really encouraged because the door had been opened to just lean into it and just see what it entailed,” she says. “It was baptism by fire, but it ended up turning out well and opened up the door and really showcased my skills with leadership.”
From there, she was thought of for more and more opportunities, including managing the internship program and initiatives she was the brains behind, to using experience working in community theater with lighting and projection, visual effects and production design as experience that benefitted her in the creative space at Disney. She was able to help update classic attractions with new effects, from Snow White’s Scary Adventure to Indiana Jones Adventure.
“People saw things in me that I didn’t even see in myself. And there were opportunities that were opened up where I was just constantly thrown into things,” she says. “And I had just made the decision, ‘I’m here for a reason, and there’s no need for me to hold back.’ So I would just lean into it and give it my all. And I discovered that I had not only a passion for creativity, but the talent for creativity.”
She was eventually asked to lead the team in updating a very large attraction, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
“It’s Mickey and Minnie, the very first attraction ride that we were doing with the icons of the company. No pressure,” she jokes. “But it was a lot of fun because it was a big challenge and we knew the weight that it carried. There was a lot of confidence in the work that I had been doing with my team over the years, and we knew that we could pull it off. It worked out well.”
From there, the sky was the limit for Carter. Early hesitation to step outside of working with numbers had long dissipated. She couldn’t wait to figure out what was next for her career.
“I got the call, ‘We are planning on bringing [Princess] Tiana to both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. And we would like you to be the producer and the team leader for that effort.’ I was like, that’s what’s next,” she says.
Imagineers will be working on transforming the classic Splash Mountain into a Princess and the Frog attraction at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom at Disney World. (Disney hasn’t yet determined an unveiling date, but more details will be shared at ESSENCE Festival in July.) As the first attraction centered around Disney’s first Black princess, Carter is grateful for the honor to be leading its creation.
“I am extremely honored to have this responsibility,” she says. “It’s hard work. And yes, I am nervous because I feel every day the weight of what it is that we are doing. But we have put together an amazing team of people. We are working with so many consultants and just really encouraging everybody who is touching this attraction to be curious, and to be humble and be open to learning, expanding on ways that we can tell this story.”
She adds, “We are building upon what was done with the animated film. We’re telling a next chapter story. We have this beautiful opportunity to give the character of Tiana depth and a dimensional space. I’m honored and excited. And I just feel like, ‘Yes, I’m ready. Let’s do this.'”
In addition to honoring the historic Disney princess, the ride will also be a love letter to the city of New Orleans, where The Princess and the Frog was set. They’ve engaged with pillars of the community to get it done right.
Overall, it’s a lot of pressure to make everyone proud, including Carter’s parents — the same people she took a photo with in front of Disneyland every time they visited the park (and gave her that extra $20). Nevertheless, she doesn’t plan on disappointing. She’s long proven what she’s capable of.
“When I think about what this project means to my parents, there’s that aspect. And then when I think about the young people, there’s just the full gamut, multi-generational impact. We are taking our responsibility very seriously,” Carter says. “I feel privileged and honored to be in a driving seat where I can help influence the choices that we make because like I said, we have a big responsibility and we plan to deliver.”