The first version of the Alice in Wonderland ride opened in 1958. It’s still one of the most popular attractions in Fantasyland at Disneyland California. There have been three major versions of the attraction: the original 1958 version, the 1984 version, and the 2014 version. So, let’s take a look at each version and delve into the evolution of Alice in Wonderland.

The 1958 Version

Disneyland Park opened its gates in 1955 with thirteen original attractions, most of which belonged in Fantasyland. Walt wanted a “storytelling” park. So, the Fantasyland dark rides–those that immersed guests into a story with the actions happening around them–took the spotlight. Maybe this is why Walt once said that Fantasyland was his favourite area of Disneyland.

With that being said, it made perfect sense to add another storytelling attraction to the land. And with the success of Disney’s 1951 animated film, Alice in Wonderland, it was the ideal new addition. In fact, an immersive attraction starring Alice in her world of madness was in the works before opening day. But unfortunately, it had to be scratched. And no, we are not talking about the Mad Tea Party. We’re talking about a ride that would have been a unique storytelling experience like Peter Pan’s Flight or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

However, the initial plan for the Alice attraction was not a ride-through, but a walk-through. It still would have taken guests through a similar experience but with more interactive set pieces and guests could have gone through at their own pace. The proposed walk-through would have featured doors that lead to nothing, slides, and revolving platforms. All of these would have been accompanied by backdrops featuring scenes from the film.

A few years after the park opening, Disney had enough in the budget to re-visit the idea of an Alice in Wonderland attraction. But this time, Walt and his Imagineers wanted to make the attraction an actual ride instead of a walk-through. Therefore, some changes had to be made to the original plan.

Construction on the new ride began in 1957, two years after the grand opening of Disneyland. The original Alice in Wonderland ride opened on June 14, 1958. There was a lot of hype around the attraction before it opened, with so much advertisement from Disney. Thankfully, the new ride did not disappoint. Although, the ride was a little bit more terrifying than guests had hoped some elements of the ride were gradually toned down.

After waiting in the outdoor line, guests sat inside a caterpillar-shaped ride vehicle (Walt’s idea) that travelled down the winding path to the rabbit hole. The voice of Kathryn Beaumont–the talent behind Alice in the animated film–is heard. “My adventures in Wonderland began when I followed the White Rabbit down the Rabbit Hole. Down, down, down.” Unlike the other Fantasyland dark rides, the main character’s voice is heard several times throughout the ride. The caterpillar vehicle ventures down the Rabbit Hole that just gets smaller and smaller.

Guests found themselves in a room that seemed completely flipped upside-down. The set pieces were only two-dimensional plywood blocks but the black light inside made them seem more realistic. Then, guests felt like they were shrinking as they went through the oversized room.

Next, a massive Cheshire Cat appeared above guests with somewhat creepy dialogue and an eerie laugh. The caterpillar went through the giant door lock from the film and into the garden/flower room. The Cheshire Cat leads us to a sign directing us to the “Mad Hatter.”

The next scene was, well, madness. There spinning teacups and flying plates that “almost” crashed into guests. Giant plywood heads of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare popped up randomly and screamed at guests. We got lost again before crashing into three doors that opened to the outdoors. The collisions coincided with some of Goofy’s famous screams, for some reason. The caterpillar-shaped vehicle slowly climbed down the winding leaf to the bottom floor and loading platform.

Remodeled 1984 Version

As part of the New Fantasyland remodel in the 1980s, most of the dark rides were drastically changed and some were completely gutted. Even though the exterior of the ride was basically untouched, the inside of the attraction was changed remarkably. First of all, the ride got an entirely new finale scene on the bottom floor before guests went to the unloading area. Most of the scenes of the attraction received upgrades to revamp its look and feel. Others were completely changed to include more of the famous characters from the film and even some elements of the planned walk-through. A scene with the Queen of Hearts and her playing cards was the most notable new addition. Each of the updated scenes made the attraction feel more lighthearted and kid-friendly than it had been before.

Mad Tea Party was moved from the centre of Fantasyland closer to where the new dark ride would be. King Arthur Carrousel took its place. Since the Carrousel and the teacups were so close together, this move made Fantasyland feel more spacious. Both attractions are still in those same spots today.

After guests hopped in their caterpillar seats, they passed by the old ticket booth in the shape of a giant yellow mushroom. They may have noticed a couple of the caterpillar’s shoes resting on top, but no caterpillar. Many people today assume the shoes were once part of an entire caterpillar statue that was removed with only the shoes remaining. However, there was never a caterpillar there, but there were always empty shoes. Why? It is an intentionally hidden Easter egg from Imagineers. These shoes were added during the 1984 refurbishment. Some have theorized that the shoes symbolize the caterpillar leaving the shoes when he became a butterfly.

The new finale scene took up part of the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride show building. After their descent on the winding leaf, guests entered the bottom floor building for another encounter with the Cheshire Cat who led them to the new (way less terrifying) Mad Tea Party scene. “The Un-Birthday Song” played as we passed Alice, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter enjoying their tea. The last scene features the alarmed White Rabbit next to a cake that is about to explode. We crash through the doors as the “explosion” happens and then safely come to the unloading area. The new version of the attraction was an immediate hit, with newspapers publishing rave reviews.

The 2010 Version

Imagineers were starting to realize that the iconic winding leaf that the caterpillar vehicle uses to descend to the finale scene could be dangerous. Specifically, when the ride breaks down while guests are on the leaf. If that happens, all guests in that vehicle had to walk down the two-story, super narrow, winding path of that leaf to safety. *I know this because this actually happened to me and my family long before the 2010 change. Those waiting in the line below us clapped when we made it to the bottom safely. It is actually a really fun family memory.* Though there are no accidents recorded from this exact situation, it was still a recipe for disaster.

So, as a temporary fix, railings were added around the sides of the leaf. There were two big problems with this: first, these railings really took guests out of the immersive experience. They were not very magical or “Wonderland”-looking. The other main problem here: these railings lasted much longer than planned–about four years!

The 2014 Version

Well, we have arrived at the most recent and current version of the Alice in Wonderland ride. In 2014, the entire exterior of the ride received a facelift. The metal railings around the leaf were removed in favour of a themed safety barrier. This included a wider walkway and Wonderland trees that also functioned as safety protections.

The interior of the attraction was upgraded with the addition of many digital effects. These projections helped the attraction feel more dynamic and bright. Fans and cast members agree that the addition of these digital effects were amazing. The screens are not overused but still help bring the entire attraction to life, it is the perfect mix. Today, the line for Alice in Wonderland is one of the longest in Fantasyland on average.

Alice in Wonderland is one of the best examples of an attraction improving with each new rendition. The idea of change will always make people feel uneasy. But we can look to the Alice in Wonderland ride in Disneyland to help us remember that change can be good. Alice in Wonderland is the embodiment of Walt’s famous quote, “Disneyland will never be complete. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”