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

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Getty

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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Disney Parks May Soon Have Robotic Stunt People
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iStock

Animatronics are a staple of any Disney park, but as the company introduces more characters into the fold—like heroes from Star Wars, Marvel, and Avatar—the bar is being raised on audience expectations. On the screen, these characters defy gravity and pull off death-defying stunts, yet at the Disney parks, they’re still relying on fairly static animatronic models for their live shows and attractions. As Tech Crunch details, though, the gap between what the heroes do on film and in the park may be closing.

This development is all thanks to Disney’s R&D department, where Imagineers are working on next generation animatronics that can pull off aerial stunts like you’d see in any of the studio’s blockbuster films. The project is called Stuntronics, and its goal is to create animatronic stunt "heroes" that can replace a more static model in the middle of a Disney park show when the scene requires some high-energy action to take place. It's similar to the flesh and blood or CGI stunt people that movies have been using for decades.

In a video demonstrating their progress, a robot model is shown leaping from a cable to do backflips, double backflips, and other heroic landings. It’s something straight out of a Spider-Man movie and is years ahead of any animatronic character currently at the park.

Tony Dohi, principal R&D Imagineer at Disney, told Tech Crunch that the idea for this type of animatronic came about because they realized there was a “disconnect” between the exhibits at the park and what people see on film, so swapping in advanced animatronics for complex action scenes would go a long way toward making Disney’s parks feel more authentic to their properties. The Na’vi Shaman from the Avatar exhibit shows that Disney can get their animatronics to emote; this next step will put them into action.

According to Tech Crunch, right now the stunt robots are realized with the help of an “on-board accelerometer and gyroscope arrays supported by laser range finding.” They are autonomous and self-correct their aerial stunts to hit their marks. Though the model used in the video is just a generic mockup, it’s not hard to see how the Imagineers at Disney can easily turn it into any number of heroes from Marvel or Star Wars.

Stuntronics is just one of the advancements happening with robotics at Disney. Tech Crunch also detailed the Vyloo, which are a trio of autonomous bird-like robots in the park that react to guest movements. They can be seen in the Collector's Fortress in the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction at Disneyland in California.

The Stuntronics project is still in the R&D phase with no practical application in place just yet. But if this technology does progress the way the Imagineers are hoping, the blockbuster action of Star Wars, Marvel, and The Incredibles won’t just be exclusive to the movies anymore.

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Disney/PIXAR
10 Space-Age Facts About WALL·E
Disney/PIXAR
Disney/PIXAR

Ah, WALL·E: The movie that made a cockroach cute—and had us all sobbing about a trash compactor. Join us as we travel to infinity and beyond (hey, it’s from another Pixar movie, but it works) with these 10 facts about WALL·E on its 10th anniversary.

1. WALL·E AND R2-D2 ARE PLAYED BY THE SAME ACTOR.

The “voice” of WALL·E is legendary sound designer Ben Burtt. Burtt is best known for his work on Star Wars (you can go ahead and thank him for R2-D2’s distinctive chatter), though he’s worked on films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the Indiana Jones series as well.

2. ALIEN REFERENCES ABOUND.

The film boasts not one but two connections to Alien, which was one of writer-director Andrew Stanton’s inspirations for the film. Early in his career Ben Burtt worked on the movie, “mak[ing] sounds for the mother computer and that sort of thing.” WALL·E’s own version of “Mother,” the main computer on the starliner Axiom, is voiced by none other than Alien star Sigourney Weaver. “I waited until the movie was kind of done to make sure she wouldn’t think I was crazy when she saw the movie, but she was a huge fan,” Stanton said. “I really lucked out and she loved doing it. She got the in joke.”

3. THE DIRECTOR CAME UP WITH WALL·E’S LOOK AT A BASEBALL GAME.

Stanton got the inspiration for WALL·E’s design when someone handed him a pair of binoculars at a baseball game. “I missed the entire inning,” he recalled. “I just turned the thing around and I started staring at it and I started making it go sad and then happy and then mad and then sad and I remembered doing that as a kid with my dad’s binoculars and I said, ‘It’s all there.’”

4. THERE WAS A “NO ELBOWS” RULE.

A still from 'WALL·E' (2008)
Disney/Pixar

In coming up with the look of WALL·E, the film’s design team operated under a “no elbows” rule; though elbows would make it easier for WALL·E to express himself, as a trash compactor robot there’d be no practical reason for him to have them. “Doctor Octopus-style” antenna arms and collapsible, telescope-like appendages were considered before the designers settled on the ultimate design, inspired by inkjet printers.

5. THERE’S A FAMILY CONNECTION TO HELLO, DOLLY.

Thomas Newman, who composed WALL·E’s score, is the nephew of composer Lionel Newman, who just so happens to have co-scored Hello, Dolly, which appears prominently in WALL·E as it’s WALL·E’s favorite movie.

6. BEN BURTT CREATED A RECORD NUMBER OF SOUNDS FOR THE FILM.

Ben Burtt created a library of 2400 sounds for WALL·E—the largest number of all of his films by far. Among the raw sounds Burtt used in WALL·E are an electric toothbrush, shopping carts banging together, a Nikon camera shutter (for WALL·E’s eyebrow movements), Burtt sneezing while a vacuum cleaner was running (WALL·E sneezing), and a hand-cranked generator of the sort used in the John Wayne film Island in the Sky.

7. WALL·E’S COCKROACH FRIEND WAS NAMED AFTER A HOLLYWOOD GREAT.

Though not named in the film itself, WALL·E’s cockroach friend was given the name Hal by the Pixar team, a reference to both 1920s producer Hal Roach (Safety Last!, The Little Rascals) and the homicidal-minded computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

8. THE HUMANS WERE ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE JELL-O BLOBS.

Inspired by conversations with NASA scientist Jim Hicks, an expert on the effects of zero gravity on the human body, at one point Stanton was going to make humans literal blobs, so unrecognizable from who we are today that “even we the audience would think it was an alien race. It had more of a Planet of the Apes twist, and they at the end would discover, as well as we would, that it’s actually us.” But, he added, “it was so bizarre that I had to sort of pull back.”

9. A LEGENDARY CINEMATOGRAPHER HELPED STRETCH WALL·E TO NEW TECHNICAL HEIGHTS.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for a whopping 12 Oscars, served as a visual consultant on WALL·E, helping the animators figure out how to make the movie look like it was filmed with actual cameras. “Very often, animated films feel like they’re recorded in some kind of computer space,” producer Jim Morris noted. “We wanted this film to feel like cinematographers with real cameras had gone to these places and filmed what we were seeing. We wanted it to have artifacts of photography and to seem real and much more gritty than animated films tend to be.”

10. THERE ARE EASTER EGGS GALORE! 


Disney/Pixar

It’s a Pixar movie, so you know there are a lot of Easter eggs. Among them: Hamm the pig and Rex the dinosaur from Toy Story, plus Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc., can be seen in WALL·E’s truck near the beginning of the film. Skinner’s scooter from Ratatouille and the Pizza Planet truck are rusting in one of Earth’s many trash heaps. A reference to “A113,” a classroom at CalArts where many Pixar animators studied, can be found in every Pixar movie, and WALL·E gave it what Stanton called its “most obvious” placement: as the name of the directive that states humans can never go back to Earth. And when WALL·E creates a statue of Eve, the lamp he uses for her arm is none other than the star of Oscar-winning Pixar short Luxo Jr.

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