Huey: Thanks for the warning.
There are children who are capable of self-entertaining. Leave them alone with a book or some toys, a video game console or even the television, and you won't have to worry about them for hours.
Then there's the child who invites you to The Dreaded Tea Party.
This child may be capable of self-entertaining but bored of it, they may be lonely and want real companionship, or they may just be a brat. Whatever the reason, plushies, toys and dolls around the tiny table all dressed up in their frilly, sparkly, pink finest are not enough and one more is needed to round out the attendance of the most important tea party in this child's life (for now).
The child who ropes others into The Dreaded Pretend Tea Party can be a genuinely sweet kid who just wants someone new/different to play with and honestly doesn't see why someone wouldn't want to play tea party; or a devious and conniving Bratty Half-Pint who either has something to hold over the head of the one they invited, or will throw a major tantrum to get what they want. Expect older kids and adults to attend only under duress and with an expression of resignation.
In more fanciful settings, the tea party host and/or their hostage doesn't even need to be human. A dog or cat with Amplified Animal Aptitude will do; or whatever other sentient being happens to fall in the child's scope.
Applied Phlebotinum or Shrink Ray may result in the protagonist and/or cast having been miniaturized to just the right size for little hands, resulting in the child discovering "new toys" or "playmates". Such a child in this case can be sweet, and will either understandingly free their new playmates, or a Spoiled Brat who must be tricked or distracted and will then throw a major tantrum at the loss of their new toys.
What it boils down to is that almost nobody older than a year or two beyond the child in question ever goes to play tea party willingly and must be coaxed, coerced, blackmailed or forced into it one way or another. This is especially true for grown men — the tougher they are, the more they will resist. The visual cues that accompany this reaction support the resistance: Pink Means Feminine. Pink Is for Sissies. No self respecting guy (unless he's a dad and it's his own daughter) will want to humiliate himself in a girly pink environment.
Resistant or willing participant aside, at the core, the kid hosting the tea party really just wants someone to play with, no matter how cruelly or sneakily or viciously they go about making that happen. The "dread" of any older kid, adult or creature at participating is the idea that adults should not ever do anything childish, even for children they love; and if they do, they should only do it with a sense of embarrassment and humiliation. Unfortunate Implications ensue because the dread in teen boys and men comes from the idea that it's awful and terrible to participate in anything girly or feminine, and that such awfulness goes Up to Eleven if their male peers should also see them doing such a thing, no matter how vehemently they protest having been forced into it somehow.
The "tea party" is the most frequently employed scenario, but sometimes the child is playing some other form of make-believe. The host of the tea party is almost Always Female, but there are the odd few boy examples.
The most common variation of the trope is frequently used in family programming with a father acquiescing to his daughter's wishes. He puts on the wig, makeup, and dress, sits at the tiny table and hopes his buddies don't see him. This is often used as shorthand for "Daddy really loves his little girl" and "is a supportive parent who doesn't stifle his child's creativity". If they're not trying for the Aesop about good parenting, Daddy has to be bribed into it by the sweet-but-clever child.
A variation that involves the same girly acoutrements and a resolved but unhappy dad is that the girl is working on a sewing project and he is being the dress form, Played for Laughs, as dad and daughter almost never are that close in body type.
This trope has nothing to do with parents throwing their small children genuine tea parties with real tea and cakes. Not to be confused with Fantastic Voyage, despite the Shrink Ray being something both tropes have in common. Also should not be confused with the American historical event called the Boston Tea Party, nor the 21st Century American political movement calling itself the Tea Paty.
Related to And Call Him "George"!, where a character also plays with another one against the latter's will, but with more fatal consequences. The tea party is frequently seen in the company of the Slumber Party, where it's part of the agenda along with the makeovers.
- A Dorito's ad plays with the trope. A dad is tiptoeing past his little girl's room, where she's playing tea party with her stuffed toys. She invites him to play tea party. He tries to gently tell her he can't because he's meeting his friends. She says "I've got Doritos." Gilligan Cut to him at the table clinking cups with the teddy bear. A moment later his friends pop in to see why he hasn't showed. As they start to make fun, the little girl invites them as well, using the same Doritos enticement. By the end of the ad, the little girl is having pretend tea time with six grown men, all dressed up like fancy ladies, much to the amusement/dismay of the little girl's mother... Whose closet was raided for the outfits.
- In the "Be a good parent" PSAs we see we see a manic looking guy doing a weird cheerleading routine - but then we discover that he's actually doing it so his daughter can practice.
- Haribo Golden bears has the kid using the candy to bribe a handful of adults, male and female, into joining the tea party.
- The trope is played with, in that it's not a child, and inverted in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: the ponies meet a scary cave troll, but Pinkie discovers he's a nice guy and is happy to have tea with him.
- The cover for ''Wolverine and Power Pack #2" (from the All-ages series) depicts Katie holding one of these tea parties with her siblings and Wolverine. Alex and Julie play along but Jack and Wolverine are clearly bored. This event doesn't happen in the story itself though.
- In Tealove's Steamy Adventure, Big Jim the cave troll captures the pony protagonists and treats them like they're his toys—and this includes making the ponies have a tea party. The ponies are too distracted to complain about the tea party, until Tealove flips out over how bad the tea tastes.
- In contrast to the canon examples from The Loud House, the tea party in Chapter 4 of Shrinkin' Lincoln actually manages to be both clever (Lola actually manages to give some fairly in-depth characterization for her toys' personas) and adorable (since Lincoln quickly finds himself drawn into the game), even ending up being a surprisingly emotional bonding experience for Lincoln and Lola.
- Toy Story: Played with in the original movie. Buzz Lightyear, despondent over having found out that he is not a Star Command space explorer but a mere toy, ends up grabbed by Sid's little sister and put in a frilly apron and hat for her tea party. Woody rescues him.
- In Toy Story 3, there is a little girl named Bonnie who throws tea parties, but none of the toys mind because she plays nice.
- Despicable Me: Gru treated the girls like unwanted pets at first, and let the Minions do most of the interacting with them. A sign that Gru is beginning to warm up to the girls is that he no longer delegates playing with the girls to his Minions. He is happily clinking cups with them at a pretend tea party when the adoption agency comes to take them back, much to his dismay — and surprise.
- Alice in Wonderland: is an inversion of the trope. Alice is the only child and finds the whole thing rather bizarre. The rest of the attendees are either adults or nonhuman and having a ball.
- In Gulliver's Travels (2010), a giant girl from Brobdingnag forces Gulliver to participate in one.
- Happens in the movie Mr Nanny, starring Hulk Hogan, where his character is forced to do this with one of his charges.
- Con Air plays with the trope. One of the serial killers joins a little girl at her pretend tea party willingly. But he's fascinated by her innocence, and a little taken aback by her compassion, so he actually leaves with the jet and does her no harm at all.
- InCryptid series. In the short story "Snakes and Ladders", a child is abducted to be sacrificed to what the cult believes is a god. He turns out not to be. The little girl, after being very freaked out, ends up making friends with the would-be god, teaches him a few human customs, and presses him into playing tea party. When her mother finally finds her, she recognizes the would-be god's expression as one her husband often wears when their daughter presses him into playing tea party against his will.
- The children's book "Vader's Little Princess" by Jeffrey Brown includes no less a grown man and Big Bad than Darth Vader himself, having a tea party with little tiny Leia.
- In the children's book "A Cup of Orange" by Nathan Bryan, Katie entices Giggo the fox by showing off her interesting tea party acoutrements. When he is close enough, she captures him and ties him up, forcing him to participate.
- Supernatural: In "Wishful Thinking" the guys go to a town where a wishing well is making wishes come true. One of the wishes they stumble across is a little girl who wished her teddy bear to life; said teddy bear is depressive and suicidal. At one point it bemoans its existence:
Teddy bear: It is a terrible world! Why am I here?Audrey: For tea parties!
- The Twilight Zone: The episode "Stopover in a Quiet Town" features one of the most disturbing uses of the trope. A couple who were drunk driving wake up to discover themselves alone in a town they can't seem to escape from. The Plot Twist is that they're in an alien child's dollhouse and surrounding toy town, and the child is just playing. After they ran off the road, the child's parents took them home to the child as playthings. Whether the child and parents are giant or there was a Shrink Ray involved is never explored. But the fear of the couple is genuine in this case given the owner of the dollhouse is at least 6 times their size.
- Criminal Minds also makes use of this trope in a disturbing way: In the episode The Uncanny Valley a woman was sexually abused as a child by her father who bought her dolls as an apology. Decades later, he took her dolls and gave them to other girls whom he abused. His daughter, desperate to have her dolls back, abducted women who happened to look like her dolls, sedated and force-fed them, dressed them up, sewed a wig into a poor woman's scalp and forced them to attend a tea party. All while acting like a well meaning little girl.
- Calvin and Hobbes:
- After Calvin stole Susie's doll Mr. Bun, Susie retaliated by taking Hobbes. When Calvin came to Susie's house to return Mr. Bun in exchange for Hobbes, Susie was having a tea party with Hobbes. Calvin was furious that Hobbes seemed to be enjoying himself.
- On another occasion, Susie invites both Calvin and Hobbes to a tea party, which Calvin rudely refuses. After realizing that Susie is genuinely upset at having nobody to play with, Calvin has second thoughts and goes to join her, claiming that he never accepts invitations because it's more fun to crash a party uninvited. The fact that she had cookies may also have been a factor.
- Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace (US) has Dennis scrupulously avoid Margaret's tea parties, unless there's plenty of cookies available. No amount of cookies, however, can compel Dennis to attend one of Margaret's piano / violin recitals.
- In Footrot Flats, Pongo often forces the Dog to be a participant in tea parties with her stuffed toys, usually dressing him as a baby. The Dog hates it (apart from the raspberry drop tea).
- The "You Are Cordially Invited" questline in Borderlands 2 requires you to collect guests and crumpets for Tiny Tina's tea party. Her guests are Princess Fluffybutt, a hand grenade in a doll's dress, Sir Reginald, a tiny Varkid in a jar, and Flesh-Stick, the bandit who sold Tina's parents to Hyperion as test subjects. Tina tortures and kills him.
Tiny Tina: <after disintegrating Flesh-Stick with ridiculously high voltage> Best tea party ever!
- The Monster In The Darkness in The Order of the Stick. The guests or the tea party are a stuffed dragon, a paralyzed O-Chul and Roy's corpse. Here's the first comic in which it's seen.
- In El Goonish Shive, a brief flashback is shown of Grace playing tea parties with Ellen. Note that they are both teenagers, although Grace is (or was at that point) a bit of a Woman Child. (And The Rant says it's exaggerated in this scene for comic effect.)
Ellen: Later on, if anybody asks, we spent the day playing video games, OK?
- Happy Tree Friends: Giggles the chipmunk enjoys having tea parties with Petunia.
- There's a Dora the Explorer game called Baby Hazel Tea Party, in which Baby Hazel has a number of tasks to perform to prepare for her tea party. According to the description text, though, everyone is happily participating, making this a subversion.
- Gaijin Smash: Azrael notes that Ultimate Sweetness could induce I'm Taking Her Home with Me! in him, at which point the police would find the two of them having a tea party.
- A particularly odd example in 'Fat, French and Fabulous', involving a disturbed solider having a pretend tea party with the bodies of the fallen.
- In the Animaniacs episode "Kiki's Kitten", the eponymous Killer Gorilla plays this with Rita the cat, who is torn between wanting desperately to escape, and feeling terrible at how sad the gorilla is when she does get away.
- Dexter's Laboratory episode "Dollhouse Drama". Dexter's sister Dee Dee loves to play tea party and dress up. Dexter, being a paranoid and suspicious sort, is dubious that she hasn't invaded his lab once in this particular day. He shrinks down to go in her room and spy on her. Dee Dee works him into her doll house soap opera, and because the shrink ray has the side effect of confusing reality with fantasy, Dexter soon believes everything in the setting to be real.
- Doc McStuffins: "Tea Party Tantrum" has the pretend tea party, and a cranky doll, rather than person, who ends up being Doc's patient.
- In DuckTales, Webby likes to play tea party. The nephews hate being pulled into it. The page image depicts a scene from DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, in which the genie (who is posing as a normal boy at the time) is pulled into a tea party.
- Hilariously the genie was fine with participating when he thought it was going to be like the Boston Tea Party but when Webby explains the actual game, he immediately complains of boredom.
- Family Guy: Stewie tries to have a tea party with Brian (throwing his teddy bear Rupert away in order to get Brian interested) but Brian spends the whole time texting on his phone.
- Kick Buttowski: "Sleepover" has a played-with example. The tea party with pink dresses and princess tiaras is part of his sister Brianna's Sleepover, which she knows Kick will try to ruin because he wants to watch stunts on TV. Brianna has commandeered it for her favorite Action Girl cartoon with her friends.
- In a flash animation based on Lenore The Cute Little Dead Girl, Lenore throws a tea party with a creeptastic twist (does anyone know if anyone shows up unwilling?)
- Kaeloo: In the episode "Let's Play Tea Party", Kaeloo manages to get Stumpy, Quack Quack and Mr. Cat to join her in having a pretend tea party. While Quack Quack is nice as usual, Stumpy and Mr. Cat are rude and sloppy (since they don't care about the party, just the food). At least, until they find out that there isn't any real food - after which they go out of their way to be annoying.
- Littlest Pet Shop (2012). A bratty little girl mistakes Vinnie the lizard for a baby alligator and begins to introduce him to all her dolls, making them play together. It takes a fly and some junkyard rats to rescue him. The little girl throws a very loud tantrum on losing her "baby alligator," and leaves Vinnie so traumatized that while he's touched she misses him, he's terrified of going anywhere near her, episodes later.
- Lloyd the Rock'n Unicorn episode "Lloyd and the Little Tea Party" has the titular Lloyd taken hostage by a powerful foe - the little girl who lives next door, for tea party purposes.
- Making Fiends: Charlotte inverts the trope. She throws pefectly delightful pretend tea parties. No one minds going to them except Vendetta, another child, who happens to hate everyone and everything, but none so much as Charlotte.
- Rob Renzetti created Mina and The Count for Cartoon Network, intended as a series, but never got that far. The pilot episode has Count Vlad invade Mina's bedroom, seeking virgin blood. Young Mina's cuteness is too much for the Count, who finds himself playing with the child, including hourly tea parties. A fearsome, deathless, magical vampire cows before this waif, whining, "Not another tea party ..."
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "Party of One" has a disturbing inversion on the trope. Childlike Pinkie Pie has come to the (mistaken) conclusion that her friends don't like her anymore and want to be rid of her because they all begged off with excuses to Gummy's after-party. She throws it anyway, and populates it with pretend "friends" Madame LeFlour, and "Rocky" (among others), whom she puppeteers and voices. Rainbow Dash comes to get her and take her away from the party.
- Pound Puppies (2010)
- "Cuddle Up Buttercup". A Lonely Rich Kid ends up getting the last toy Buttercup toy in the store. Only she's a real, live puppy! Lucky goes to rescue her, and ends up sitting through a royal meal with the boy pretending to be king, and splashing grape juice everywhere until the other dogs arrive with the toy so they can escape.
- "Lucky Gets Adopted". Lucky is adopted by a little girl who is not rich, but still lonely because she's a little eccentric as compared to other kids. He gets pressed into tea party duty here and barks at her to startle her so he can escape. He eventually comes back of his own volition though.
- The Powerpuff Girls:
- "Slumbering With The Enemy": Inverted. Mojo Jojo in disguise as "Mojeisha" is fully in character as an excitable little girl, and produces a tea set for the slumber party the Girls have thrown. But this is because he has some sort of plan to destroy the girls, and is masquerading as one to get close to them.
- The Simpsons: In "Lisa's Date with Destiny" Lisa shows her crush Nelson around and tries to put Snowball the cat into a baby carriage for play. As the cat resists, she claims that Snowball usually loves to do it, but it's clear that Snowball hates it.
- South Park: Cartman is mortified to find the other guys have covertly video'd him having a pretend tea party with his dolls and action figures, together with his giving them distinctive funny voices, and hve sold it to network TV for screening on a Funniest Home Videos show.
- Tom and Jerry: In "Baby Puss" Tom only barely tolerates being put in a baby bonnet, booties and a diaper by the little girl of the house because it means he gets a bottle full of milk. His tolerance ends when Butch and the other tough alley cats of the neighborhood find out and begin mocking him mercilessly for it.
- Shows up a couple times on Ed, Edd n Eddy:
- In "Sir Ed-A-Lot", the Eds get pulled into playing servants to self-proclaimed Queen Sarah, and a tea party is just one of the embarrassing activities involved.
- In "Rambling Ed", Eddy convinces Ed to move out and get away from Sarahs's bossiness, with a thinly-disguised Johnny 2x4 taking Ed's place. Johnny actually seems excited at the prospect of going to one of Sarah's tea parties.
- On Max and Ruby, "Ruby's Tea Party" involves Ruby trying to involve Max in a tea party with her dollies when Max wants to play pirate.
- On Franklin and its All-CGI Cartoon spin-off Franklin and Friends, Franklin's little sister Harriet loves hosting tea parties with her plush, and sometimes bringing in her best friend Beatrice as well. Franklin often ends up getting roped in, but he's generally actually pretty supportive.
- On "Spy HQ" from Joe and Jack, Joe and Jack visit the hut set up by their friend Tallulah, thinking it's going to be a spy headquarters, only to find she wants to have a tea party with them.
Jack: I have to get some air!
- The Loud House: Several of the kids employ the trope or variations of it:
- Lola is a tea party expert. She knows the proper serving temperature for Earl Grey as revealed in "Read Aloud". In "A Tattler's Tale" she finds out all her siblings' secrets and threatens to tell their parents in order to blackmail them. She forces them to be butler, maid, jester, and music for her tea party with stuffed toys.
- In "Study Muffin" little brat princess Lola throws a tea party for hot English tutor Hugh.
- In "The Price of Admission" Lincoln throws himself one with pizza rather than tea and faces drawn on pillows to help himself stay awake after seeing a scary movie without permission and being freaked out about it.
- Lucy knows the other kids want nothing to do with tea parties thanks to Lola. In "Spell It Out" she has a flip board Secret Passage in the attic that looks like a tea party to disguise her seance setup.