In the lawsuit Walt Disney Prods. v. Souvaine Selective Pictures, Inc., Disney sued the U.S. distributor of Alice in Wonderland (1949) to prevent its opening in the U.S. within days of Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951). Disney sought an 18-month delay in its U.S. release, arguing unsuccessfully that it was unfair competition because the public identified the title with the Disney version. See more »
Produced and released shortly before Disney's feature-length cartoon version, this "Alice in Wonderland" has a curious legal history whereby Disney frivolously sued to delay or prevent its release and the competition it might bring. Curiouser, the two Alice films share a couple important similarities. They're both animated, although in different ways; Disney's is drawn, and this one is stop-motion puppetry mixed with live action. Both regrettably add songs that lend logic and order to what was otherwise a Wonderland of episodic nonsense. And, yes, Alice is a blonde in a blue dress for both. Apparently, the coloring of this one has become degraded in the intervening years and has since not been restored, plus Disney prevented it from being filmed in Technicolor, so it literally pales in comparison to the colorful Disney picture. Moreover, some now claim the Disney film a "classic," whereas this one remains relatively obscure. That's a shame, too, because it's somewhat more faithful to Lewis Carroll's books and especially the first one, and the "reality" framing device is an insightful bit concerning art reflecting life.
The outer narrative shows Carroll's story to be "not so simple, because you will see that Lewis Carroll modeled his creatures of Wonderland on the foibles of real people." This framing, then, is similar to the Kansas scenes of the 1939 "The Wizard Oz," which in turn is based on L. Frank Baum's book that was intended as an American counterpart to the Alice books. And, unfortunately, although not likewise photographed in black and white, as were the Kansas scenes in the 1939 film, the outer narrative here is bland. It sets up that the characters seen surrounding Oxford will later lend their voices and attributes to the inner animated story's cast--most of all, of course, that of Alice Liddell and the fictional Alice, as portrayed by the same actress (an adult one, by the way, which is common in film adaptations). Alice mostly provides voiceover narration of her thoughts, which was surely helpful for translation as the film was released in French and English-language versions. The most interesting part here is the inclusion of Charles Dodgson's (a.k.a. Carroll's) interest in still photography, which adds another layer of reflexivity to a film that already features its author as a character telling the story. This largely replaces the usual dream framing, although this is hinted at, too, by the Alice Liddell's reactions to the story Dodgson tells her.
The main, inner narrative is largely plotted around Alice being chased by the vengeful White Rabbit, whom Alice was pursuing in the first place to land her in Wonderland. He schemes to set her up for the crime of stealing the Queen's tarts after the incident of her causing havoc by growing taller inside his house. Other episodes are also oddly made sense of here; for example, the scene where the mouse decides to recite the driest bit of history he knows--a humorous pun in the book--is turned into a song here, which is hardly dry at all. Nevertheless, the puppetry appreciably lends weirdness to the proceedings, and some of the decidedly-artificial settings are well designed, including the checkered layout of the hall at the bottom of the rabbit hole. The rapid cutting of Alice and the Rabbit running is effective, too. On the other hand, some of the cutting between live-action Alice and the animated puppets seems a blatant workaround to otherwise having to do more composite shots--rendering the fantasy that Alice and the characters of Wonderland are inhabiting the same place less believable. Despite it not all smoothly succeeding, it's interesting how many layers are worked with here, between a real actor combined with puppets and the fictional Wonderland inside the outer world of Carroll as author and photographer and Alice as dreamer of her fictional self.
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