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10 Head-Spinning Facts About Disney's Mad Tea Party Ride

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Disneyland turns 61 this year—and so does Mad Tea Party, the revolving tea cup ride that's beloved by Disney enthusiasts and reviled by anyone who gets motion sickness. In celebration of the swiftly spinning saucers, let us serve you a few fun facts.

1. IT’S AT FIVE OF THE DISNEY THEME PARKS.

The ride is so popular that it has been recreated in nearly all of Disney’s theme parks. (That’s the Paris version in the above image.) The only theme park without a tea cup ride is the newly opened Shanghai Disneyland. It has a similar ride called “Hunny Pot Spin,” based on Winnie the Pooh’s adventures instead of Alice and her pals. But Wonderland isn’t completely absent from Shanghai—a maze based on Tim Burton’s Alice movies can be found in Fantasyland.

2. THE SPIN WAS ONCE SLOWED DOWN.

You may think of the tea cups as a kiddie ride—in fact, there’s no height requirement—but they can still spin fast enough to cause injuries. After a guest slipped and fell out of a tea cup in 2004, Disney made adjustments to the cups to make them more difficult to manually spin. Diehard fans complained, and Disney reportedly restored the spin the following year.

3. THERE WAS ONCE A GOLDEN TEA CUP.

To commemorate Disneyland’s 50th anniversary—which was also the ride’s golden anniversary, since it was there on the park's opening day—a special golden tea cup was installed. Other attractions that opened when the park did on July 17, 1955 were similarly honored. Rides that also got the gilded treatment included a Main Street trolley, Dumbo, Peter Pan, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Cinderella’s Carrousel, the Jungle Cruise, and Autopia.

4. THE DISNEYLAND VERSION WAS RELOCATED IN 1983.

For nearly 30 years, the tea cup ride sat where King Arthur’s Carrousel sits today. In 1983, it was moved closer to the Alice in Wonderland ride, which had recently been refurbished.

5. THE MAINTENANCE CREWS HATED IT.

The Disneyland ride still had some kinks when the park first opened, and for the first few months it was in operation, maintenance crews spent up to two hours every morning welding cracks before guests arrived. It was re-engineered later in 1955, which solved the problem.

6. IT’S NOT UNUSUAL TO SEE ALICE RIDING THE TEA CUPS.

If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit in their natural habitat. It’s not unusual for them to hop on the ride with guests—and, of course, they get to skip the line.

7. THE CUP DESIGNS WERE CREATED BY MARY BLAIR.

Mary Blair made many contributions to Disney over the years, from working on concept art for films (including Alice in Wonderland, appropriately) to designing murals for the park and hotels. Blair also worked on many of the rides. While It’s a Small World is the ride that most notably has her stamp all over it, she also worked on Alice. Most of her original tea cup designs are still in use today.

8. THE RIDE WAS TWEAKED FROM THE ORIGINAL CONCEPT.

Early concept art for the ride features a tea party table centerpiece, with larger-than-life versions of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. The characters would have serenaded guests with "Very Merry UnBirthday" song during the ride. Also featured: Giant sculptures of the caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat.

9. DISNEY DIDN'T DESIGN THE RIDE.

Arrow Development, an outside contractor, was responsible for building six of the rides for Disneyland's opening day: Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, Snow White's Adventures, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, King Arthur's Carrousel, and the Casey, Jr. Circus Train. According to Imagineer and Disney Legend Bob Gurr, all of the rides, except for the carousel, were prototypes. "That meant all of the developmental testing was to be done by our Disneyland guests!" According to Gurr, Arrow lost money on making the rides. When Walt Disney offered to make up the difference, the owners of the company refused, saying it was just an honor to work with Disney. Their humility paid off—Disney contracted Arrow for many more rides, and eventually bought a third of the company.

10. DESPITE LONG-STANDING RUMORS, THE PURPLE TEA CUP IS NOT THE FASTEST.

Many guidebooks and Disney tip lists will tell you that the purple tea cup spins the fastest. Sometimes you'll read that it's the orange cup with diamond shapes on it. It's a myth, says Yesterland—especially since the ride modifications that happened in 2004 and 2005.

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Why Mickey Mouse Could Soon Be in the Public Domain
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Mickey Mouse debuted to the world in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, and has since transformed into an icon recognized around the world. But the mouse’s status as Disney's exclusive property is under threat. As Ars Technica reports, Steamboat Willie is set to enter the public domain in 2024, and unlike in previous years, there have been no moves from Congress to stop that from happening. Once it does, in theory, anyone could use Mickey's image for free.

This is the third time the cartoon has been on the verge of losing its copyright protection. The first came in the 1970s, back when copyright terms only lasted 56 years. That meant every book, song, and movie made in 1923 was scheduled to lose its protected status in 1979, and Steamboat Willie would follow on its 56th anniversary in 1984. But in 1976, under pressure from companies like Disney, Congress extended the statute to 75 years, keeping all works made after 1923 from becoming public domain until 1998 or later. Mickey remained safely out of the public domain for another two decades. Then, when copyright terms were again scheduled to expire in 1998, Congress extended them a second time, this time to 95 years.

Now, the clock is ticking down for these older works once again as the 2018 expiration date of that copyright extension nears. Only this time, it looks like Congress may let them become public property without a fight.

Today’s constituents tend to care more about copyright law now than they did in 1976 or even in 1998. The rise of online streaming and easily accessible pirated content has made the issue more relevant to the life of the average person than ever before. The defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 made this clear to legislators. That bill, which would have empowered law enforcement to punish or block sites sharing pirated content, was so controversial that it sparked protests across the web. Because of the sheer scale of that public response, lawmakers are now hesitant to change any existing copyright protections, including those set to expire on January 1, 2019.

But even if those protections expire, Disney could still find a way to prevent rival studios from using Mickey’s image when 2024 rolls around. While copyrights are designed to be temporary, trademarks have the potential for serious lasting power. That’s because copyrights only protect a single work of artistic expression (in this case, the film Steamboat Willie), while trademarks are attached to images and logos that represent a brand (so Mickey Mouse, the character). As long as Disney can prove that Mickey has evolved beyond his first screen appearance into a symbol that’s synonymous with its corporation, he’ll remain a protected property. And if you take a look at their theme parks, cruise ships, media, and the dozens of Hidden Mickeys they've hidden in their movies, you’ll see that they can easily make that case.

But few works of art made in the 1920s have taken the same path to corporate dominance as Mickey Mouse, even other works made famous by Disney (like Winnie the Pooh, first introduced in A.A. Milne's stories in 1926). Even if Disney manages to protect Mickey, the public should have a big new batch of copyright-free content to access in the next few years.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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The One Phrase Disney Theme Park Characters Aren't Allowed to Say
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images

The 14 Disney theme parks located around the world attract so many attendees each year that the company recently decided to increase admission for peak times by 20 percent to help decrease crowd congestion. Anaheim’s Disneyland is such a popular tourist attraction that some days the park is actually at capacity.

What keeps visitors packed in like sardines? The promise of a suspended reality—one that treats the various Disney characters as though they had just stepped out of a movie. There’s a laundry list of employee policies to help sustain that illusion, and Travel + Leisure recently uncovered one of the most interesting ones: Actors dressed as Disney characters are never allowed to say “I don’t know” to guests.

The motivation is understandable: Disney never wants people to feel as though they need to wander around looking for information. If they pose a question to, say, a Disney Princess, the actor is expected to communicate with other employees or areas of the park in order to find the answer. If Elsa doesn't know where the nearest restroom is, she's tasked with finding out before your kid's bladder gives up.

If a guest is looking for general directions, there’s also protocol for how to point. Performers are not allowed to use their index finger by itself. Instead, they use it in conjunction with their middle finger. In addition to index finger-pointing being considered rude in some cultures, legend has it that the gesture was partly inspired by Walt Disney himself, who once roamed the park grounds pointing at structures with two fingers that pinched a cigarette.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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