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Disneyland Article
California vs. Paris: Alice In Wonderland
Hugh Allison
In the seventh of my series comparing the two Disneylands closest to my heart (California and Paris), I shall be looking at selected references to Disney's 1951 animated movie Alice in Wonderland within the parks.

The best place to start is perhaps the "Teacups ride", officially known as Mad Tea Party (MTP) in California, and Mad Hatter's Tea Cups (MHTC) in Paris. Both were opening day attractions, which have been in Fantasyland from day one, although the location of MTP altered in 1983 so as to fit King Arthur Carrousel directly behind Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Whereas MTP has to close down in inclement conditions both for health and safety reasons (e.g. a greater chance of excited children slipping) and because the motors under the platforms are not able to function properly when wet, MHTC is covered and thus can operate in any weather.

Both rides usually last ninety seconds or two minutes (depending on the operators' whim and/or line size) and feature eighteen cups. MHTC can only seat four riders in each cup compared to MTP which allows five. Both feature a pre-recorded spiel, which Cast Members can override, and are surrounded by themed topiaries.

MHTC has supposedly got no upper speed limit, with the velocity based only on the muscle power of the Guest(s) spinning the wheel in the centre of the teacup; as of 2004, MTP does have an upper speed limit, so as to minimise the amount of in-cup spillages which need to be cleaned up.

Both versions are accompanied by an instrumental version of The Unbirthday Song, as composed by Mack David, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman. Both have Chinese Lanterns hanging overhead (which make the attractions especially pretty when lit at night), and both officially refer to the giant spinning platform as "the tea tray". Extending this metaphor, each disc is referred to as a "plate", and each cup is on its own "saucer".

The operator's booth for MTP is shaped like a house with a thatched roof (such as the one Alice bursts through in the film, after consuming the "eat me" cookie), whereas for MHTC it is shaped like a sugar bowl. Incidentally, until researching this article, I had always thought it was supposed to be a milk jug.

Visible from MHTC, however, is a house with a thatched roof. This is supposed to belong to The March Hare, and it houses March Hare Refreshments (MHR), a counter service refreshment area which serves snacks rather than meals. According to Peggie Farris (the current head of Walt Disney Imagineering, Paris), speaking at a refurb presentation on March 25th 2011, this roof will shortly be "redone".

The range of nibbles on offer is not as large as when the park first opened, which included the much-missed and oft-requested Unbirthday Cake. The seating area for MHR is uncovered, and features a giant teapot, from which Dormouse periodically appears, as per the centre of Florida's MTP.

Referring solely to buildings with an Alice in Wonderland theme, Paris's Fantasyland has this one eatery but no shops, whereas California's features no eateries but one shop; The Mad Hatter, which features a mirror with an appearing/disappearing Cheshire Cat and a side entrance for The White Rabbit. There is also a shop, with the same name, on California's Main Street U.S.A.

Although it would be pointless to list all references to Alice in Wonderland throughout the parks, such as in parades or shows, it would be remiss of me not to mention Alice in Wonderland (the two-storey dark ride which opened in California in 1958) and Alice's Curious Labyrinth (currently shut for refurbishment) which was an opening day attraction in Disneyland Paris.

The Labyrinth is a hedge maze, consisting of two main parts, Tulgey Wood (which is the more comical part) and the harder-to-navigate Queen of Heart's Maze (which is mildly scarier, with rising animatronics and sudden noises installed to make you jump). It is possible to leave the attraction before getting to Queen of Hearts Maze.

In the centre of the maze is The Queen's Castle, which one can climb up for a view of Fantasyland. This used to feature a slide which, although still visible, was closed off for safety reasons within a year of the park opening.

One of the most visible elements of the Labyrinth from outside is the head of the Cheshire Cat. Except for his eyes and teeth (which light up at night), his face is made up of various flowers, which are changed regularly, meaning the exact colour of the visage alters depending on the time of year.

What Guests don't often realise is that the section of the maze known as Cheshire Cat Walk makes up the feline's stripy body, when viewed from above. (Likewise, MHTC, viewed from above with its nearby ponds and hedges, makes a giant teapot).

Although they are different types of attraction, Alice's Curious Labyrinth and Alice in Wonderland (the ride in California) are remarkably similar. Both start with a trip down the rabbit hole and then feature an encounter with Doorknob. As the attractions progress, it is noticeable to the true fan that the two have very similar soundscapes, and the figures and animatronics/hydraulics are identical, including that of White Rabbit holding a clock, the Caterpillar smoking a hookah, the Cheshire Cat rolling his eyes, a family of Horns honking and the Queen shaking her fists.

Both also feature misleading direction signs (with the same creatures on top, such as Hammer Birds and the owl with an accordion neck), a scene based on "Painting the Roses Red" and a slightly embarrassed looking King of Hearts figurine.

However, Alice's Curious Labyrinth doesn't feature an equivalent of the Tea Party scene, Tweedledum and Tweedledee or the Flower Garden but instead it has a Caucus Race, which can be entirely bypassed if necessary.

One more omission is that Alice herself does not appear in The Labyrinth (except for on the attraction's logo above the entrance) whereas she does appear in the Anaheim ride. Seeing as the Guest is supposed to be "playing" Alice in each attraction, with the voiceover of the ride being her thoughts, her lack of appearance in France is the more sensible of the two.

Both Fantasylands feature a very specific geographical area dedicated to Alice (Paris having MHTC, MHR and the Labyrinth; Anaheim having MTP, the Alice in Wonderland ride and The Mad Hatter) rather than having these attractions spread out throughout the Land. This is also where the characters are more likely to be found, posing for photos and giving autographs, and also various oversized fibreglass leafs keeping this section coherent.

In each case, this area is part of a larger section of Fantasyland based on England, which in California covers much of the South West area of the Land, and also includes Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan's Flight, King Arthur Carrousel, The Sword in The Stone and The Castle Heraldry Shoppe.

In France, this England section is in North West Fantasyland, and also features the "British Park" area (Toad Hall Restaurant, the Fantasy Festival Stage, the Railroad station and some Pooh Bear style Hunny Pots) and Peter Pan's Flight. As the exact borders of the England section is not defined, it could be argued that it also features Le Carrousel de Lancelot, Sir Mickey's Boutique, Merlin L'Enchanteur and The Sword in The Stone.

It does seem odd to me, nonetheless, that the parks should dedicate such large sections of both Fantasylands to Alice in Wonderland (not to mention a scene in California's Storybook Land Canal Boats). Walt Disney was known to have loved the Lewis Carroll's original texts even before he had created Mickey, Walt had directed Alice's Wonderland and a series of over fifty Alice Comedies- but he wasn't happy with his studio's animated adaption of the 1950s, saying it "didn't have enough heart". The film was also a Box Office flop. Curiouser and Curiouser

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