By Justin Arthur
On June 14, Disneyland’s Alice in Wonderland attraction celebrates 60 years of being a one-of-kind! To this day, no other Disney theme park in the world has an attraction like it. Follow us down the rabbit hole, and discover 11 fantastical facts to celebrate this milestone un-unbirthday!
1. The weird and wonderful world of Wonderland has inspired Imagineers to create many terrific attractions over the years. Concepts for multiple attractions inspired by the 1951 animated feature Alice in Wonderland date to before Disneyland even opened. In 1954, Imagineers considered a companion attraction to the Mad Tea Party that would have been a fun house-style walkthrough attraction full of gags inspired by the film.
2. Many of the talented men and women that Walt recruited to work on Disneyland came from the Disney Studios itself. As a result, much of the incredible team that worked on the animated Alice in Wonderland ended up working on the attraction. Future Imagineers (and future Disney Legends!) who worked on the original film included Ken Anderson, Mary Blair, Claude Coats, and John Hench.
3. Disney Legend Mary Blair’s masterful concept work and use of color were on full display in the original animated film. Imagineers working on the 1984 restoration of the Disneyland attraction were so inspired by her work that they precisely color matched the singing flowers in the attraction to the film’s original animation cels.
4. Fellow Animators-turned-Imagineers Claude Coats and Ken Anderson were recruited to paint many fantastical scenic backdrops for 1955 Fantasyland dark rides like Snow White’s Adventures, Peter Pan’s Flight and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Said Coats on his transition from cel-sized to full-sized backgrounds, “I went from a 12-inch-high format to sets that were 18-feet-high!” These attractions were some of the first “dark rides” to employ elaborate black light painting techniques. The duo applied lessons they learned from those attractions, and took Alice in Wonderland to a whole new, zanier level when it opened in 1958.
5. A key background artist on the animated film, Claude Coats’ journey to Wonderland came full circle when he served as Show Designer for Disneyland’s 1958 Alice in Wonderland attraction—of which he had full responsibility for show design and layout. Claude originally sketched ride vehicles made of the film’s iconic playing cards, but Walt Disney suggested the film’s Caterpillar as a means of conveyance. Ultimately, Coats would design the vehicle and Imagineer Blaine Gibson sculpted it into three dimensions.
6. Alice in Wonderland was Disneyland’s (and Disney’s!) first two-level ride-through attraction. Due to the spatial constraints of the original Fantasyland, the majority of the attraction actually takes place on the second floor, right above of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride!
7. The 1958 version of Alice in Wonderland was limited to the technology of the time—primarily flat cut-outs of characters, and simple gags. As part of the “New Fantasyland” of the 1980s, the attraction reopened in 1984 with 24 fully dimensional figures. Said 1984 show designer David Mumford, “We tried to give the color and the mood of the film center stage.” Also for the first time, guests encountered Alice, the smoke-ring-blowing Caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts inside the attraction itself. The Audio-Animatronics® Alice they encountered was originally from the 1971 Walt Disney World® attraction, Mickey Mouse Revue.
8. Before the 1984 refurbishment of the attraction, the towering yellow mushroom that looms over the attraction’s load area was a ticket booth, selling the “D” coupons required for a ride on Alice in Wonderland. If you look closely from atop the leaves of the ride, you can spot six small shoes atop the mushroom, supposedly left behind when the Caterpillar turned into a butterfly.
9. The “bang” of a finale wasn’t always there. Until 1984, Guests descended the oversized leaves and made a “u-turn” back into the load area. Imagineer Tony Baxter, who oversaw the revitalization, thought the ride deserved a dramatic finale and moved the Mad Tea Party to a brand new space just before the end—creating room for the Queen of Hearts and her army of cards upstairs!
10. Over the years, Disney Legend Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Alice in the 1951 film, and Wendy in Peter Pan (1953), has reprised her role as Alice for various incarnations of the attraction.
11. In 2014, Alice in Wonderland received a vibrant new upgrade, seamlessly integrating state-of-the-art technology, and making the classic attraction shine like never before. Sixty years later, this madcap adventure to Wonderland has never looked better!