"I just wanted people to be able to laugh a little about our situation and try not to let the stress of it all get to them," says Kurt Tocci

By Joelle Goldstein
May 06, 2020 08:01 PM
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Kurt Tocci
Kurt Tocci

An influencer has set out to bring joy to people amid the coronavirus pandemic — and what better way to do that than with Disney?

Kurt Tocci is a member of the Smile Squad, a group of content creators and influencers whose mission is to make people smile through their original quarantine-related skits.

At the end of March, Tocci, 28, created a parody video titled "Disney Characters in Quarantine," where he dressed up as the beloved characters and sang versions of their songs with lyric references to staying home, washing your hands and social distancing.

A number of Disney's iconic songs were incorporated in the clip, such as "Circle of Life" from The Lion King, "Gaston" and "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, "The Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book, "I Can Go the Distance" from Hercules, "Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan, "Let It Go" from Frozen and "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid.

Speaking to PEOPLE about the video, Tocci says he got the creative idea after seeing a meme circulating of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast that referenced the pandemic.

"I thought to myself, 'Why don't I just do something like this, but actually sing it, and make it a video instead of a picture?'" he recalls. "Since I have a background in musical theater and have sung all the Disney songs at one point or another in my life, I already knew how the rhyme scheme and pacing of the song needed to be."

"Then it was just a matter of making puns that were also teaching people about the issue, but in a fun, Disney way," he adds.

Over the course of a week, Tocci gathered costumes from his closet and Amazon, selected which songs he wanted to perform, and came up with appropriate lyrics.

When he was ready, he had his good friend and Smile Squad creator Markian Benhamou come over and film the parody, prior to Los Angeles going into a city-wide lockdown.

Since releasing the clip, it has gone viral with more than 75 million views on Facebook and another 1.1 million on Instagram.

"It is honestly so amazing," Tocci says of the video's success. "Since I was a kid, all I have ever wanted to do is make people smile, and to think, of all the times in the world, when all of this is going on around us, I'm able to create a quick three-minute escape for someone out there with their own lives and their own problems... is more rewarding than anything I could ever imagine."

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"I just wanted people to be able to laugh a little about our situation and try not to let the stress of it all get to them," he adds. "I know the video doesn't change anything about the situation, and at the end of the day, it is only just a video. But, if it is able to take someone's current mood — being upset, bored, stressed, whatever it may be — and give them just a moment to smile and laugh at some dude dancing around his apartment in wigs, then that is a win in my book."

Tocci's hilarious video is one of many that the Smile Squad has created amid the pandemic. Other clips that their team has put out include "20 Types of People in Quarantine," "17 Awkward Moments on Zoom" and "How to Stay Fit in Quarantine."

Of the group that inspired Tocci to transition from a career in film and television to social media, he says, "Smile Squad lives a lifestyle of positive energy and uplifting light-hearted content ... [it] isn't just a group of creators — it's a message, a lifestyle, and it's so cool to be able to take all of that and express it through videos ... even while being in the middle of a global pandemic!"

Adds Benhamou, who founded the group in 2019: "We have one mission and that's to make people smile: a mission needed more than ever right now."

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