It’s anyone’s guess as to why Casper would ever need friends to begin with, so even more baffling would be the need to emphasis that, indeed, he was a friendly ghost. If being friendly means that he won’t possess me or try to make me shit my pants every time the light goes out, I’d say that those were the bare minimum requirements of friendship. You don’t go around making strong social circles with that kind of policy; it just doesn’t happen. Yet still, even with all points of sanity considered, his persona persists. Casper the friendly ghost; it sounds so genuinely inviting. With a tagline like that I expect breakfast in bed and a few golden afternoons spent downtown strolling through the walls of a bank vault or two—after all, friendship is about equal exchange. And, if you want to hang with the living, my financial needs should be understood as being part of your obligatory friendship duties.

As we march away from the days of paper and pencil, I find it remarkable how animated characters continue to leave such a bold impression upon us. More than just being woven into the fabric of art culture, there is something intrinsically valuable about animated characters themselves. Beyond the stories and the great artisanship that helps to represent them, the persona of each character feels truly genuine. That is to say, unlike the live actors that play a role and leave it, animated characters don’t play a role; they are always themselves. In a way, their stories, feelings, and personal struggles are more real than those of the characters played by the celebrities we have come to revere.

For the celebrity, when the performance ends and the checks are written, the character dies along with lights of the stage. Yet, the animated character lives on and their story is ongoing. The work of a drawn hero is never finished because it was never work to begin with—it has always been their life. And perhaps more important to note is the integrity with which they carry on those lives, with the kind of consistency that people look for. That’s what draws the audience in. Sure it’s the swords and heroics too, but ultimately, the character you know and love is always the same.

It’s the little things too. Mickey doesn’t disappoint his fans by getting a nose job and opting to finish out his career doing white lines off the breasts of a stripper named Angel. You won’t see Winnie the Pooh and his gang starting bar fights or flipping off T.V. cameras outside a nightclub in New York. Bugs Bunny won’t be having an illegitimate child this year after four rounds of rehab and a sex tape scandal.

For a long time I never knew much about why people put so much stock in animated characters. I didn’t understand why people would want to cosplay and dress up like their favorite heroes, flying across the globe to join others who worship the same fictional beings that they do. I just didn’t get it. Yet now I think I have an idea about why people do these things, why they love these characters so much. These characters never falter. In the world of animation you won’t find your favorite people letting you down. In that way, heroes are forever—and we need heroes. And now, more than ever, it’s the real world that’s full fictional characters. You don’t have to stick around long to realize that all the double-talk and mindless prattle spat out by those meant to lead is enough to make sure no one gets anywhere, ever. People need any example they can find of integrity, courage, and consistency when the real world can’t produce one. Follow your heroes, whoever they may be.