Thursday, May 10, 2018

Alice in Wonderland Ride, April 1969

"Peter Pan's Flight" gets most of the dark ride love at Disneyland, and there is no question that it is a beautiful attraction. But I have always had a fondness for the "Alice in Wonderland" ride! For one thing, the caterpillar vehicles are my favorites. I've never seen one come up for sale in an auction, but if I had to choose just one ride vehicle, it would be a caterpillar.

Here's a fun photo showing two kids, just about to embark on their trippy journey through Wonderland. I love that the five caterpillars have entirely different paint schemes. One long-haired blonde girl is wearing a blue dress, much like Alice herself.

Another interesting feature is that the "Alice" ride does not run on a flat plane like most of the other dark rides. As you can see, one vehicle is entering a ground-level tunnel, while the one with our two boys is up on the 2nd level ramp.

All of those giant Mary Blair leaves are neat, but they make it tough for a photographer!


Nanook said...


Next to Peter Pan's Flight, it was always a tough call for me between Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and Alice in Wonderland - but Alice is so wonderfully-unique with its climbing/descending track - and certainly no other theme park vehicle has the 'attitude' of these caterpillars-! And you ain't kidding about those intrusive Mary Blair leaves - why, one of them could be hiding the Lindbergh Baby-!

Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Alice was always my favorite Disneyland dark ride. I never understood why it only took a "B" ticket, when the other Fantasyland dark rides took a "C" ticket.

TokyoMagic! said...

I am vaguely remembering those two metal "bumps" in the road that the right side of the vehicle would go over after leaving the loading area. What do you suppose their purpose was?

Melissa said...

One long-haired blonde girl is wearing a blue dress, much like Alice herself.

She's even got the white stockings and black Mary Janes. She was Disneybounding before it was a thing.

I didn't have a chance to ride Alice in Alice in Wonderland when I was out West; I hope it's still there when I get the chance to go back.

Have we seen those two boys before?

Chuck said...

Alice holds a special place in my heart. My mother read the books to me two or three times as a pre-schooler, and my own copy was the first novel-length book I ever owned. It sat on a bookshelf in every one of my college dorm rooms (including at the Air Force Academy) and still holds an honored place in my personal library today.

The film Mrs Miniver contains a scene where Greer Garson is reading to her children while the family hunkers down in the Anderson shelter in their back garden during an air raid. While the dialog doesn't explicitly identify the book, the passage she's reading is from Alice in Wonderland. I get choked up every time I see that scene.

It's probably no accident I married a blonde who looks great wearing a black ribbon headband.

Something about being able to enter the world of your favorite stories can really stoke the imagination. One of my first - and definitely my favorite - View-Master reel sets was of Alice in Wonderland. I still have it in its warped, scratched, much-viewed, and probably-worthless-to-a-collector state, a priceless artifact of my childhood. Seeing those scenes in bright, vibrant color and three dimensions made a huge impression on me.

I still have my Disneyland storybook record of the film, listened to again and again on my little, blue GE record player. I knew the songs and film artwork long, long before I ever saw the movie.

All that, in turn, inspired my love for the Alice tunnel and merry-go-round at Children's Fairyland in Oakland (Ken Martinez knows what I'm talking about). Looking at fully-realized representations of scenes from my favorite story and being able to interact with them in a limited way - sliding down the rabbit hole, getting lost in a maze of cards - made it a special part of every visit.

I wanted to visit Wonderland, and I only got glimpses in my favorite dreams.

So while it's a safe bet that I would like Disneyland's Alice ride, the Imagineers' treatment of the subject made me love it - both the original 1958 and the 1984 versions. While not a literal, in-order retelling of the story, the immersion into the colors, sounds (including Kathryn Beaumont and Thurl Ravescroft), and crazy world of Wonderland brings it all together for me. It's a shame that there isn't enough space to recreate DLP's Alice maze at DL, but the Alice overload would probably make me explode.

A favorite memory on my last visit was riding during the afternoon parade. As our caterpillar exited the show building and we began our journey down those oversized leaves, I looked to the right and noticed that the Alice float was passing. The young woman portraying Alice looked up at our caterpillar, made eye contact with me, smiled, and waved, and I couldn't help but smile and wave back. All in the golden afternoon...

Peter Pan is pretty cool, too.

Stu29573 said...

Although I have been to WDW many times, my first introduction to Disney theme parks was at Disneyland in 1973. That was the only time I have been there (although I toy with going back...) That trip, taken with my grandparents and mother, made good impressions on me. i remember being blown away by Pirates, standing outside of the Haunted Mansion at night feeling pretty scared, riding through the mysterious Rainbow Caverns, and my grandmother taking a nerve pill after getting off of the Matterhorn. I don't, however, remember Alice. This is weird because it's exactly the kind of ride a 10 year old me would have loved. This makes me think that maybe we missed it. Which is sad. Maybe I'll have to go back after all...

Anonymous said...

Re the metal bumps - I worked that ride for years, and I have no idea what they were there for.

Stefano said...

When I became a Disneyland fan in the early 70s, I had yet to see any of the classic animated features Fantasyland was based on, except for "Fantasia" in its psychedelic 1969 rerelease. Still, it was instant and familiar love for those dark rides. There is a marvelous collection of kids' records called Tale Spinners for Children, recorded in England in the early 60s, covering many of the best-known folk and fairy tales; the Alice in Wonderland is especially good.

Although I miss the Upside Down Room, and the huge manic laughing Cheshire Cat swinging into our faces, overall I think the revamped Alice ride was the biggest improvement of the '83-'84 New Fantasyland.

Stefano said...

I remember metal bumps at the end of the first Alice ride, before disembarking, and had the idea that they released the lap bars --- there was no attendant to do this. Maybe the bumps at the beginning set the bars in place.

K. Martinez said...

I have to confess that Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is my favorite, but Alice in Wonderland definitely comes in second place and almost equal. The caterpillar cars are definitely the best of the Fantasyland dark ride vehicles.

As for Walt Disney's animated feature "Alice in wonderland" it has always been one of my favorites along with "Pinocchio" and "Dumbo". What an awesome trio of Alice in Wonderland pics. Thanks, Major.

Chuck, I do remember the Alice tunnel at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. My mom rook steps while I slide down the slide into the rabbit hole. That place was magical and full of old style charm.

zach said...

Great heart-felt comment, Chuck. It got me thinking about my Mom and the stories she would read to me. One of them I couldn't even read to my own children because it choked me up every time I tried. So, thanks.

Alice has always been a favorite, along with Peter Pan. They both are unique in their own way. The Alice lookalike is a CM, I'm pretty sure.

Great memories, Major.


Nanook said...

@ TM!-
I seem to recall those "bumps" were placed to contact the right tires of each caterpillar, creating a slight disorientating feeling to the riders. Or, did it merely close the lap bars-? (It's been too many years).

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, there is something so classic about those dark rides, even with the changes that the ones at Disneyland have undergone over the years. Like you, I agree that “Toad” and “Alice” are right up there among the best.

TokyoMagic!, I wondered the same thing - as if the Alice ride was somehow not very good! I’d love to know why it was a “B” ticket.

TokyoMagic!, I have NO idea why those bumps were there. It is clear that they are there for a reason, but… WHY?

Melissa, yes, those boys are part of the group with Fun Mom and Fun Dad! We’ll be seeing more of them coming up.

Chuck, I feel like a dummy, because I have always loved to read, but never read the “Alice” books. I’m not sure why! Books that were read to me as a child are still beloved (“The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”, “Captains Courageous”). And when my niece was little, I loved to read to her at bedtime. Time to visit Project Gutenberg and download the e-books. I have tons of Viewmasters, but not an “Alice” set… some of my favorite Viewmasters are the ones in which actual sculpted dioramas were created - they were surprisingly “on model”, their artists did an amazing job. I didn’t remember that we heard Thurl Ravenscroft’s voice in the Alice attraction, but there is a lot of trippy stuff going on! Very cool that you had your own memorable “Alice” encounter, I can understand why it has stuck with you after so many years.

Stuart Powley, I suppose that if you are used to the current WDW crowds, perhaps the crowded conditions at Disneyland won’t seem so terrible - but it sure isn’t the way it was in 1973! It’s very possible that your family didn’t do “Alice” back then… there was so much to do, you would have had to be pretty determined if you wanted to ride everything. However, the exterior is so striking it seems hard to imagine walking past it and not deciding to wait in line!

Anon… that’s amazing! The mystery deepens…

Stefano, I’m not 100% certain, but I think the first movie I ever saw in a theater was “The Jungle Book”. After that, it was Disney movies by the dozen. I love the idea of the Tale Spinners records… I had a stack of my own children’s records that I wore out. The imagination of a seven year old really brought those things to life!

Stefano, I was thinking that they might have some sort of mechanical function, resetting the lap bars is as good a theory as any.

K. Martinez, both “Toad” and “Alice” appealed to me because of their weirdness. I was fascinated with going to hell (!), while the entire Alice ride was just so trippy. I love the artwork and animation of “Alice in Wonderland”… those films of the 50’s (“Peter Pan”, “Lady and the Tramp”, “Sleeping Beauty”) are when the studio’s artists were at their peak. Everything looked so good! Meanwhile, I need to look up “Children’s Fairyland” online to see what it looked like.

Anonymous said...

@Chuck. Great story, how wonderful to have such detailed memories. Like you, I didn't get to see the movie until many years after I first experienced the dark ride. We subscribed to the Disney Channel for our kids, and a bonus for me was the replay of some of the old classic animated movies. I think I still have the VHS taped version of Alice, complete with 1980's commercials.

I had a "condensed" version of the book with the original Tenniel illustrations that I wore out with reading. It's a fascinating story and amazing that so many people think it's for kids.

@Ken, I'm a big fan of Mr. Toad, but I think Alice has to be my favorite dark ride. The 3D aspect and the interior/exterior route makes it a winner.

@Stuart Powley, you saw Disneyland at it's peak, IMHO. The only thing missing then was Space Mountain.

One favorite memory of Alice comes from waiting in line for the Matterhorn. As a kid, I would race straight to the bobsled queue, and the one on the Alice side was the first one you come to when heading there from the entrance. The end of the line would often be just opposite the cave entrance/exit to Alice. Every time the exit door would swing open to disgorge a caterpillar, the sound track played the Disney equivalent of the "Wilhelm Scream", a kind of "WOOO-HOOO-HOOO-HOOO" bellow that sounded vaguely like Goofy in some black & white cartoon. It made the bobsled wait interesting, hearing that scream every 15 seconds. I would hear it in my dreams.

@Melissa, often the CM's running the ride were dressed as Alice, and undoubtedly cast for their resemblance to the character. The girl in the picture is a CM, not a guest.

The Mary Blair leaves were when I first noticed that Disneyland was connected to the "real world" of construction. The old, original pink and purple leaves were made of standard deformed concrete reinforcing bars. the odd deformation pattern (designed to increase the tensile grip of the concrete on the steel) was clearly visible in the leaf edges and ribs. When I recognized this as a little boy, I had visions of the Imagineers as regular guys, who built Disneyland from scratch parts. Now, everything is perfect, bespoke and polished, with no recognizable connection to an outside world, unless that is desired as part of the illusion.

@Stefano 2. Ditto. The bumps are definitely part of a Rube-Goldberg pantographic (not the word, but close) mechanism to set or disconnect something on the vehicles.

Thanks Major for great pictures today.


Patrick Devlin said...

Ah, the upside-down room is missed certainly, but the charm endures.

Now JG, how can anyone get tired of hearing "Yaaaaaaa-hoo-hoo-hoo-hooey!" every fifteen seconds? I love that particular aspect of the ride made it though the remodel..

K. Martinez said...

I thought I had mentioned it here before, but I read somewhere that to most guests back then, the original "Alice in Wonderland" attraction was considered a "girls" ride so it wasn't as popular with boys.

It was said that when the revamped "Alice in Wonderland" opened in 1984 a year after NEW Fantasyland opened that the new "explosive" un-birthday scene at the end of the ride was so loud that when the boys walked by and heard the explosion they became more interested in the attraction and begin to ride it, making it more popular.

Maybe that's why it was originally a 'B' ticket attraction? Because it only appealed to girls? Just my guess.

JC Shannon said...

I love the Alice ride, it is my second favorite after Peter Pan. When I was a boy, my favorite part was turning and slinking down the giant leaves. I always thought the caterpillar might come off the tracks 'cause it looked and felt like you were hanging off the edge. I always loved the expression on the caterpillars face, very smug. The CM rocking the Mary Janes is indeed an Alice lookalike. Thanks Major for the great scans.

Anonymous said...

@Patrick, I said it was interesting, not that I got tired of it. :-).

Also happy that detail survived.

@Ken, never heard that before, certainly never occurred to me. Was this attitude supposed to extend to Snow White and Sleeping Beauty too, because the dark rides seem pretty evenly balanced between heroes and heroines, if we include Mr. Toad as a male role model.


Chuck said...

The bumps arm and disarm the self-destruct mechanism. It's a precaution in case the animatronics become self-aware and attack the guests.

The "Goofy Holler" is one of my three favorite stock sound effects (the other two being "Castle Thunder" from Frankenstein (1931) and the "Wilhelm Scream"), but I imagine that it could get old after hearing it every 15 seconds. Ahh, who am I kidding...

Major, Thurl Ravenscroft was called back to re-record some of the music for the 1984 update. I read a story years ago that when they handed him the music to rehearse, he found notations on it in his own handwriting. It turns out they were the original songsheets the Mellomen used to record the soundtrack for the film in 1950 or 51.

You can get a fairly good idea of what the Alice tunnel and merry-go-round (as well as the rest of Children's Fairyland) look like at these websites:

I haven't been there in more than 40 years, but it doesn't seem to have changed significantly from my visits in the '70s, or indeed, changed much from what it looked like in the '50s and early '60s.

JC Shannon said...

This may be a flashback, but doesn't Monstro look like he is headed down the concourse devouring all in his path? I had way too much fun in the 60s.

Major Pepperidge said...

David Zacher, I honestly believe that kids who have stories read to them (at bedtime or otherwise) wind up with a special bond to their parents that others might not have. I agree, the “Alice” in a CM… we’ve seen other photos of multiple women (all with long blonde hair) dressed in similar costumes for that ride.

Nanook, it seems like those bumps would be more of a minor annoyance than something that would actually disorient the riders. But… one never knows.

JG, wow, you were MUCH more observant than I ever was. I had no idea that those leaves were ever made of concrete and rebar! Why didn’t they use platinum and candy, like I would have? I know that “Goofy scream” that you referred to… Disney has used it a lot, and to be honest, I find it distracting because my brain thinks, “Hey! There’s Goofy! What’s he doing here?”.

Patrick Devlin, I used to enjoy hearing the Wicked Witch scream every time a vehicle exited the “Snow White” attraction!

K. Martinez, hm, I had never heard the “girls ride” theory, but it might be true. Would the same thing have applied to the Snow White ride? The trouble with theories like that is that I see stuff on Facebook every week - a kooky idea that somebody comes up with, and they present it as if it is a fact. That’s the world we live in now, I suppose.

Jonathan, yes, the subtle (but quick) change of scale was one very cool element of the Alice ride. And I loved sitting in front for that crazy feeling that your vehicle was going to plunge off of the edge of the leaf!

JG, see my comment to Ken!

Chuck, funny, I’ve heard that “thunder” effect a million times, but did not know that it originated with the 1931 Frankenstein. That makes me love it even more! I also love the story of Thurl finding his own notations from over 30 years earlier. Thank you for the links to the Children’s Fairyland websites, it looks like it was a charming place. Or rather IS a charming place, since it appears to still be around?

Jonathan, yes, Monstro looks like he has gone full “Godzilla”.

Patrick Devlin said...

And as a last minute, sort of, note to JG regarding the rebar that was used as the outlines for the "leaves" in the Alice exteriors I'd just add the the leaf surfaces were colored fiberglass and a little bit translucent. Somewhere along the line, maybe 1983, they were switched to steel panels and all of their color was from a paint treatment. I think I prefer the previous version. Certainly that's the way they are today.

Melissa said...

On the WDW discussion boards I used to frequent, the whole “Fantasyland is just for girls” trope was definitely alive and well. There was always at least one mother complaining that there was “nothing for boys” there, and how unfair it was. And enough people seemed to believe that was true that on the way into the park during my visits to the Magic Kingdom, I would inevitably hear at least one family planning to divide up for Mom to “do princesses” with the girls and Dad to “do pirates” with the boys. That made me sad, since Walt envisioned a park where families could enjoy things together. And there was always at least one parent on those boards saying that there weren't any character meals “for boys,” as if a male child was incapable of enjoying meeting female or animal characters. When I was a kid, I remember both boys and girls enjoying all the Disney cartoons equally. But marking toward kids has become a lot more gender-specific since those days. *polishes onion on belt*

Melissa said...

Oh, I almost overlooked the mushroom ticket booth. One of my favorite touches.