Interview with Matteo Borghi – Show Director of Alice & the Queen of Hearts: Back to Wonderland

A as it continues to expand its entertainment offerings, Disneyland Paris launched Alice & the Queen of Hearts: Back to Wonderland, a wild new show that offers a modern take on the timeless story of the Walt Disney Animation Studios film Alice in Wonderland. A unique musical show presented in the newly unveiled theater at Walt Disney Studios Park: “Theater of the Stars,” presented by EDF. Running since May 25 and now showing until September 29, 2024, this electrifying show is sure to transport guests of all ages down the rabbit hole and immerse them into an urban version of Wonderland!

Matteo, how did you come up with the concept for this brand-new show?

I wanted to offer our guests a totally different experience from what we’re already familiar with at Walt Disney Studios Park. On one hand, Mickey and the Magician is a musical illusion show, and on the other, TOGETHER: a Pixar Musical Adventure uses technology to immerse spectators into fan-favorite stories from Pixar Animation Studios. I wanted to imagine something completely different, something that would once again surprise our guests. At the same time, I wanted to pay tribute to a Disney Animation classic. Alice in Wonderland was an obvious choice, as it’s one of the most universally known Disney stories. Everyone knows Alice, the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, and their adventures are beautifully celebrated at Disneyland Park in Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups. I knew I could build on those references to have more fun with these iconic characters. 

Is it true that this world lends itself to every kind of extravagance?

Yes, anything is possible in Wonderland! I conceived this show in the unique setting of this extraordinary stage – 68 meters long and 26 meters deep – which until 2020 hosted the Lights, Motors, Action! Stunt Show Spectacular and is now being transformed for the show. It’s a magnificent playground for which I’ve imagined something big, colourful and rich – an experience that is unprecedented and astonishing. 

How did you reimagine the original 1951 film?

When it came to the graphic style and the scene itself, I put a lot of thought into it with our Set Designer, Olivier Dusautoir. We sat down and exchanged ideas on how we could represent Wonderland. It was important for us to keep the key elements of the 1951 Disney Animation film, such as the labyrinth, the little animals in the Tulgey Wood and other iconic references from the movie, while giving them a modern touch. Entering the world of this show is like waking up in Wonderland, but in 2024. 

The perfect setting to tell a new story.

Exactly. I worked in parallel with author Ludovic-Alexandre Vidal – who also helped create The Disney Junior Dream Factory show – on the story we wanted to tell. We started with an iconic moment from the film, the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and asked ourselves how we could follow it up. Watching the 1951 classic, we realized that the story didn’t really end. There’s the croquet game, followed by Alice’s trial, which ends abruptly when Alice wakes up. So, we came up with a new tea party for which the Mad Hatter invites all our guests, as well as two special guests: Alice and the Queen of Hearts, who come face-to-face once again. The Queen of Hearts is not happy, as she feels that she and she alone should be the guest of honor. A new face-off between Alice and the Queen follows, bringing the croquet game to a close and finally deciding which of the two will be celebrated. All this under the watchful eye of the Mad Hatter, who handles things, shall we say… his way! 

The scenic space for this show is immense, yet everything has been done to ensure that the audience feels close to the action.

We really wanted the audience to feel immersed in this experience and involved in our story. When you discover this unique setting, you’re immediately plunged into Wonderland. To achieve this, we moved the stage closer to the bleachers than in the original configuration. 

What’s more, we wanted our guests to feel connected to the show’s characters, and at some point to be able to influence the end of the show by deciding how the story would unfold. Because that’s what Wonderland is all about: you never know what to expect! 

This is also what makes Alice & the Queen of Hearts: Back to Wonderland such a modern show, with a resolutely contemporary message.

In our story, there are no good or bad characters. Both protagonists are interesting and convey ideas that are not in opposition but complementary. Alice embodies the idea that you have to believe in your dreams, believe in your imagination. That’s how each of us can create our own universe and change the world. Obviously, the Queen of Hearts is much more self-centered. She’s going to defend her own vision, which is that you have to believe in yourself to succeed in whatever you do. Both messages are important, and this duality is expressed through the music and artistic disciplines involved. 

Indeed, music plays a key role in this show.

I’d go so far as to say that it’s the center of everything. It was really important for me to propose music that would resonate with this vast space. New, very contemporary music that, at the same time, pays tribute to the Disney Animation film by incorporating nods to the 1951 melodies. 

For Alice, we went for a pop style, very joyful, very festive, which is also associated with the Mad Hatter. The Queen of Hearts, on the other hand, is associated with classic rock, with percussion and electric guitar. We experimented with different styles and found that this duality worked perfectly for our show. 

The great strength of this music also lies in the fact that much of it is performed live.

Exactly. For each show, we have six singers on stage. There’s Alice, of course, the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, as well as the Caterpillar, the March Hare and the White Rabbit, who sing and help tell the story. In addition, we have four musicians: two percussionists, who play instruments specially designed for our show, as well as a guitarist and a player of the keytar – a keyboard-guitar. 

It’s also a show that incorporates lots of acrobatics, some seen before at Disneyland Paris.

As I said, it all started with the music. Once we had determined the musical world of Alice and the Queen of Hearts, I asked myself what artistic disciplines could go hand-in-hand with these styles. At the same time, I had to take into account the size of the stage, both horizontally and vertically, in order to make full use of its potential. So, I called on two different disciplines that have this unique ability to resonate with music: trampoline and BMX. We’d already used trampolines in some of our shows at Disneyland Paris, but never in a “trampo-wall” form. It enhances the height of our sets and, at the same time, echoes the energy and bouncy feel of the music. As for BMX, we often think of it as a sport, which is true, but we too often forget that this discipline can be a form of artistic expression when combined with music. In both cases, you can create striking images and choreography. 

There’s one important character we haven’t mentioned yet: the Cheshire Cat.

He’ll be there! He’ll appear in the show… just like a cat that is, when he feels like it, and how he feels like it! He’s a truly unique character, full of surprises.

You have a strong affinity for the world of Alice.

It’s a world I’ve known for a long time, and one I was delighted to immerse myself in again for this show. I hadn’t seen the film in quite some time, and I discovered all sorts of facets in it that I hadn’t noticed as a child. I was fascinated by it, and I did a lot of research. I read Lewis Carroll’s novel, as well as books on the creation of the 1951 film. As I discovered how the Disney Animation artists had worked, I realized that they had done the same thing I had: brought their own vision to a timeless classic. In fact, this show is also a tribute to their work and unique creativity. 

Alice & the Queen of Hearts: Back to Wonderland promises to be a highly original show at Walt Disney Studios park!

Disneyland Paris is an incredible place, a genuine creative hub where anything is possible – immersing our guests in the heart of an animated filmor, on the contrary, reinventing classics in a totally unexpected way. 

In my opinion, Walt Disney Studios Park is the ideal place to create immersive and different experiences like Alice & the Queen of Hearts: Back to Wonderland. This can be done in a variety of ways, in a blackbox-style space or outdoors, but the aim is always the same: to transport our guests to the heart of our stories, while surprising and delighting them.

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