Alice in Wonderland (1951)
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I read Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass for English 180 (Children's Literature) at the University of California, Davis, so needless to say, I read it with more of a literary appreciation than is generally applied to children's books. I was pleased to see so many of the characters from the second novel in this version of Alice In Wonderland (such as the Cheshire Cat, the talking flowers in the garden, and Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum), although I must admit that I was slightly disappointed to see that Through The Looking Glass has been assimilated into this version of Alice In Wonderland rather than adapted into its own film, which I think is an honor that it certainly deserves.
As far as being a full length feature (although rather short at roughly 75 minutes), however, I think that this movie does justice to both stories, converting them into a single story rather smoothly, and only leaving out things that will only really be missed by people who know the novels enough to be disappointed that certain things were not included. I, for example, would have loved to see the whole chess story in Through The Looking Glass included in the film (there certainly was time for it), where Alice travels through Wonderland on her quest to become a Queen herself, but I am more than happy with how this film turned out.
One of the only things that I noticed about this film that did not match up to the quality of the novels is that the books have so much more in them for adults than the movie does. There are so many tricks with language pulled in the books, such as in the conversations with Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum as well as several other characters, that it really makes you think about the English language as a game with which an endless variety of tricks can be played. In the film, this is hugely downplayed, even if only because it is done visually and the language tricks pass by so fast that kids are almost certain to miss them and even the most attentive of adults will have a hard time keeping up with them.
As a whole, however, Alice In Wonderland is so wildly entertaining that the loss of some of the literary substance does not detract from it as a terrific tale of adventure and discovery, certain to be enjoyed by people of all ages. I have heard plenty of rumors that Lewis Carroll was on any of a variety of drugs while he wrote the novels (and plenty of rumors that he wasn't on any drugs at all), but there are certainly some things in the books and in the movie that could have only been conjured up by the most, um, eccentric of imaginations. We may never know for sure, but at least we have some wonderful entertainment.
Read the books to your kids.
Faults and all, it's still a colorful event--probably one of the richest uses of color Disney ever attempted and with some wonderful styling in its background art. For me, a highlight of the film is the singing/talking flower sequence ("Golden Afternoon") with its haughty flowers discussing Alice as if she was some kind of other worldly creature with funny looking stems. (It reminded me of the snooty elephants laughing and speaking with contempt of the new baby elephant in Dumbo).
Other bits are equally brilliant--the shuffling army of cards in the Queen of Hearts episode; the baby oysters clothed in blue bonnets and pink dresses for the Walrus and the Carpenter; the droll humor in the Tweedledum/Tweedledee sequence; the smoking Caterpillar becoming irate when his three inches of height becomes the subject of conversation; and of course, the Mad Tea Party, full of hilarious slapstick and immensely aided by the voice talents of Bill Thompson (White Rabbit), Jerry Colonna (March Hare) and Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter). No less impressive is Verna Felton as the raucous voice of the Queen of Hearts in some of the film's funniest moments. With her army of cards, she plays a wicked game of croquet with flamingoes as mallets, hedgehog as a ball and cards as hoops, all the while displaying a lethal temper.
Despite some brilliant animation, pleasant songs and gorgeous art work, it's just another example of how difficult it is ("impassable" to quote Carroll) to translate this particular tale to the screen and still remain faithful to the original. Others (many other versions, in fact) have failed--but Disney at least provides a sprightly, if frantic, version that has appeal for adults and children.
Perhaps because its surrealism matched the hippy culture of psychedelia, ALICE enjoyed a welcome theatrical return engagement in the '60s and has become more respected in recent years (an American-made British fantasy popular even in the U.K.) as one of the studio's finest efforts.
Ironically, one of its most delightful characters--the doorknob--never appeared in the book but was applauded everywhere as an inspired bit of business.
Much of the language, poetry, and ideas that make the original story so captivating cannot really be conveyed very easily in a movie, and so it would be nearly impossible for any cinema version of Alice to be completely satisfying to those who love the book. Instead, this version simply tries to make the characters come to life, and to use the animation to recreate the feel, if not the depth, of Alice's experience.
The animation drives most of the movie, and at times it is pretty imaginative. Some of the voices work very well, too, with the likes of Ed Wynn and Sterling Holloway fitting the animated characters quite well.
Carroll's stories are so enchanting and creative that it is no surprise that there have been so many efforts through the years to capture the magic of the Alice stories on film. None of the cinema versions has yet come close to matching the books, yet the material itself has made most of them worth watching. In this one, the overall production has a definite Disney style to it, which makes it different from the original, but as a movie it works pretty well.
Learning about Literary Classics from Disney cartoons is the most convenient, entertaining and wildly amusing ways of seeing what an author had intended the viewer to create in their mind. But nowadays, thanks to television, children can hardly get past the first sentence of a book without wanting a Pikachu or some sort of explosion to take place.
That's where the magic of Disney films come in. The animators, imagineers, musicians and creators take massive pride in the making of their literary classics to Disney masterpieces and Alice In Wonderland is a prime example.
The story of young Alice toppling down a rabbit hole and meeting a bunch of locals in the magical world of Wonderland is created perfectly through this Disney adaptation. Taking aspects from both the original Alice and Through The Looking Glass, the exploits of Tweedledum and Dee to the Mad Hatter's Tea party blend seemlessly in this brilliant animational masterpiece.
The musical score, with each character owning their own theme music, and the various songs throughout are enjoyable and fantastic.
The characters themselves shine, making each and everyone of them memorable especially the talents of Ed Wynn as The Mad Hatter and the brilliant J. Pat O'Malley as the Tweedles and their story telling equivalents.
So, the ideal way to introduce children, or even Highschool Students having to do books from the 19th Century, is to find a Disney Classic such as Alice In Wonderland and marvel at the creative genius behind the team that made books exciting for the new generation.
It seems to me, when watching most Disney films, that Walt Disney had an evil masterplan to mess with the minds of children, young and old. Dumbo is a film about an outsider, Pinocchio is a film about a freak child who cannot stop lying. Walt only made these films family viewing through constantly having a moral ending. Dumbo can fly and Pinocchio is rewarded for risking his life to save another, however, these moral endings do not disguise the fact that, at times, Disney films were quite peculiar.
Alice in Wonderland on the surface is a dreamlike fantasy about a child nodding off and visiting a wonderful wonderland where flowers sing, caterpillars smoke and rabbits talk. However, similarly to Blue Velvet, this film is not about the surface values, its is about the dark, seedy undertones that exist beneath the aesthetic surface.
Below its surface lies a wealth of wholly unlikeable and unhelpful creatures. Aside from the King (Hooray) of Hearts, each character only serves to hinder Alice in her attempts to come to terms with her warped dream. The Cheshire Cat is responsible for putting Alice in court, the White Rabbit wants to have Alice destroyed when he finds her at his home, the flowers shun Alice when they incorrectly perceive her to be a common garden weed, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare also shun Alice for no reason whatsoever, this list is as long as the tunnel that leads Alice into her Wonderland.
To look back at the film nowadays, one could surmount that the ending is nothing more than a cop-out (these thoughts were true for Lynch's Boxing Helena). She dreamt it all along is nothing more than saying, here, we'll give you licence to create a magical world, no boundaries because it all exists inside a young girls mind.
I'll admit this review might seem overly critical of the film, but it is for these warped reasons and the context of what the film represents or least what it should represent that I absolutely adore it. Walt Disney might have had a masterplan to screw with the minds of his children, but I say, good luck to him. A subtle undertone to the magical shell of the movie shows that the yolk is in fact sour. I daren't but will compare this movie to Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder, another film about a false surface level and the warped undertones of life and death.
Sleep is only a state of mind, it's what happens in this state of mind that really matters. Or at least, what mattered to Walt.
A wonderful, imaginative adaptation of Lew Carroll's famous novel. Captures well the sheer randomness, weirdness and wonder of Alice's adventures in Wonderland.
Great animation, even by today's standards. But, then again, this is a Walt Disney production, so that is a given.
Voices are spot-on. Kathryn Beaumont, at 12/13 years old, shines as Alice. Disney must have liked her performance too - she provided the voice of Wendy in Peter Pan, two years later.
The quintessential adaptation.
As an older teen, it comes off more as seeming like a 'drug' movie, and of course Carroll's original story has become not just a phrase for 'through the looking glass' in society, but as part of metaphors for the drug community ("White Rabbit" is one of those classic, strange 60's songs that still works today). For what Carrol intended when he wrote the book - for his child friend named Alice - it's taken on other, surrealistic connotations over the centuries. With various allusions to such substances like the big-and-small pills, the caterpillar with the pipe, the hare and hatter with their 'tea', and the Cheshire Cat going in through the out door, it's not too hard to picture it as being a precursor to the 60s.
But, of course, there is also that very innocent approach that the Disney films had of that early period. Alice is as innocent and day-dreaming as Snow White, though with a little more interest due to her having to be a formidable enough guide through this imaginative world. And there are little, surreal fables that are laced in that, again, capture the absurd poetic tone of Carroll's work. The segment with the Walrus and the Carpenter is a very good example of this, and is one of the funniest segments not only of the film but maybe of any Disney feature of the period. And stretching out after going into taking the ideas and images from the book into animated form, the abstractions become rather incredible for their time.
As a kid as well as now I loved seeing the large Alice start to cry to the point of creating a dangerous sea of it right by the snobbish doorknob. The Cheshire Cat is one of those insane concoctions that is delightful in its unhinged abandon. The Queen of Hearts sequences towards the end are, for me, the only ones that are more closer to the 'traditional' Disney films where the looser, crazier nature that went on before with the March Hare and Mad Hatter took place (one of my all-time favorite Disney scenes by the way- that little mouse deserved some sort of prize).
Overall, this is quite a treat to revisit years later- yes, even in a non-induced kind of state- with cheerful songs, and a neat balance of delirious humor and silly imagination. In short, a film like this probably couldn't be made today, at least by Disney.
Alice is all children. They want adventure, they want to giggle, they want flowers to sing and delightful little cakes to possess potent magic powers.
The book is much less over the top. But the movie captures something else. Something far more extravagant. It's simpler and I think it benefits from being so simple. It's not trying to be clever. It doesn't need to.
At its roots, this is a fantastical celebration of nonsense.
I spent a goodly part of my life becoming an expert in the Alice material, so have had to work to temper this comment: My initial feeling on this project is one of utter despair, as Walt and company took something that was both fun AND rich, and bleached all the richness out of it. But you don't want to read that.
What is interesting is the fact that it is still fun, and this puzzled the dickens out of me for a long time. That Dickens thing - I think I understand it now.
The notion of a story entered the Victorian era and emerged in three pieces, and that story of the story is quite a story.
Those three `pieces' founded distinct threads - traditions of storytelling - that are in a sense at war among each other for mindshare. And it is not simply for control over how we are entertained, but how we situate ourselves in life.
One thread, wholly new, was created by Charles Dodgson. It was a voyage into an internal space created by one's own mind - itself a modern notion. There, we encounter all manner of ourselves and the puzzling artifacts of the world as we receive them. It is rich stuff, this literature, worth spending time with; highly self-aware and self-referential. In fact, a goodly part of Dodgson's self-reference was in ruminating on the nature of self-reference. Joyce comes from this tradition, as well as our reinvention of Shakespeare.
Another thread, equally new, was created by Charlie Dickens. Previously, we had a literature of situations, often driven by an external fate. Dickens turned this on its head by creating a form based on characters. What Dickens does is create amazing characters - using a variety of tricks - that are so alive that they drive the story. Instead of the reader understanding the nature of fate, or of the situation, he/she merely needs to become familiar with the characters and follow them as they bump up against each other.
(The third thread, the one that cinema most uses, is the detective form where the writer and reader are engaged in a battle of wits to create the narrative.)
That Dickens model is less work for the reader/viewer. All the fun of the read is in discovering these personalities. This combination of fun and ease makes this thread often run into the lower scale of entertainment, all way down to wrestling and soap operas. Dickens' method of writing was so extreme in this regard that he would write and publish chapters of large works without knowing where the characters would take him.
What Disney did with `Alice' (and other projects) was to transport the story from one of these threads (that of Dodgson) to another, that of Dickens. So instead of Alice going through a Kabbalistic Tarot-structured series of encounters with various problems in self, knowing and representation, she just goes from one colorful character to another. It works because Disney makes these characters more fun than they ever were in the books. There, they were puppets through which he could speak. Here, they are the faces of the world.
While I worry about the destruction of an intellectual landmark, I have to have admiration for the intelligence of what Walt did. The technical details of the transformation are pretty ponderous and required some extensive reworking of the episodes. For instance, check out the tea party which in the book is an amazing confabulation of reasoning about the inadequacies of reasoning. Disney turns it into a dance, even though many of the words are preserved, including the `writing-desk' riddle.
The garden of flowers is an even more extreme case. Its absolutely amazing, wonderful.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 4: Has some interesting elements.
Through the years the successive re-releases of this movie saved it, giving it the deserved credit and success, but when this initially came out in 1951 it was a failure and largely criticized.
I heard that Walt Disney didn't like very much the character Alice because in his opinion she was cold. I don't see why Walt Disney had that opinion about her. There's nothing cold about her. I think she's a nice little girl. When she falls in despair, it's easy to feel sorry for her.
Some parts of this movie are a bit weak, but that's not a major flaw. My least favorite character is obviously the Queen of Hearts. I don't like her at all. I guess nobody likes her, because she is meant to be hateable.
But apart that this movie is full of awesome characters: the Cheshire Cat, the Dormouse, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, the army of cards, Alice, Alice's sister, Dinah, the Doorknob and even strange creatures like a dog-broom, duck-horns, bird-mirrors, bird-cages, bird-pencils, etc...
The creativity of this movie is not only on its peculiar characters, but also on its extravagant details: sceneries, gardens, places, original designs, etc...
What also makes this movie so different is the personality of the characters: they're all mad, but hilarious (except the explosive Queen of Hearts, of course) and they do the craziest and silliest things. That makes them so funny. The silly humor of this movie is very classic, which is another big attribute.
Only in "Alice in Wonderland" you can see hilarious things such as the unbirthday tea party celebrated by the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the cute Dormouse.
Where else you can see such an enigmatic and cool character like the Cheshire Cat, a mad character with great sense of humor and the power of becoming invisible? Only in "Alice in Wonderland", of course.
Dinah (Alice's kitten) is one of the cutest Disney animals. She was drawn to be cute and adorable, like Figaro and others. The way she movies her little paws is so lovely and so is the way she chases Alice. To see kittens like Dinah and Figaro makes you wish to have a cat like that.
Richard Haydn is hilarious as the Caterpillar, a character who speaks in a very calm way, but with a voice that seems to come from his nose and a short temper.
The great Sterling Holloway has one of his most spectacular performances ever as the voice of the amazing Cheshire Cat.
The unforgettable Ed Wynn gives such an energetic performance as the voice of the Mad Hatter and Jerry Colonna is great as the March Hare's voice.
Bill Thompson is cool as the White Rabbit's voice. But I must say that Kathryn Beaumont is wonderful as Alice's voice, James MacDonald is fabulous as the Dormouse's voice, Joseph Kearns is funny as the Doorknob's voice and Heather Angel is awesome as the voice of Alice's sister. They're all great Disney legends.
Walt Disney, ever since the 1930's, had always wanted to adapt Lewis Carroll's classic books to the screen, but had problems with the story. When he finally got the chance, he was disappointed with the result, and the film, unfortunately, was a box office failure. But the film is entertaining nonetheless. The characters are wonderfully brought to life, just the way Lewis Carroll wrote them. Wonderland is beautifully drawn, with the Disney animators giving it just the right amount of fantasy. The songs (some of which are adaptations of poems found in the ALICE books) are fun, especially "A Very Merry Unbirthday"! The voice talent is perfect, with Kathryn Beaumount (later to become Wendy in Disney's PETER PAN) as Alice, Jerry Colonna as the March Hare, Ed Wynn (at his best) as the Mad Hatter, and Verna Felton (the fairy godmother in Disney's Cinderella, Aunt Sarah in LADY AND THE TRAMP) as the Queen of Hearts. Overall, this is one of Disney's best! Recommended. 10/10.
Just like legendary Disney films such as "The little Mermaid" and "The Lion King" it will remain a family classic forever.
But one thing that did bug me from time to time in the film was the way that Alice kept on giving into the temptation of curiosity, I don't know about you but if I saw a talking rabbit with a waistcoat, matching watch and gloves I'd leg it the opposite direction screaming for my mum. But it did capture the immense stupidity of most kids who just have to try some things even when they know it would lead to trouble. Those where the days eh?
For Disney, the plot (of which there is none in the classic masterwork) is Alice learning to pay attention to good advice and be more responsible. A bit heavy handed, perhaps, but it was 1951.
This considerable sub-plot aside, the character treatments and voice actors are dead-on.
There are a few "stananks," however. A few problems never addressed by Disney (corporate) in the fifty-plus years Alice has been out. The most egregious is the final segment of the tea party, which includes a scene animated, but never colored and two sections of animation and dialogue out of sequence. Likely, unfortunately, to remain out of sequence for all time, because Disney artists, being mainly priggish, tend to agree with Walt himself, who felt the film "lacked heart"(read: had no love story)...and "never made sense anyway."
So, what makes Disney's version so worth seeing? He gets the story wrong, he interposes characters i9n random order and leaves out half of them. Why is this the best-known version?
Because it is the most memorable. The colors, the wonder, and the (hate to say this) magic are at a premium. This is the one I remember form my childhood, and it was 75 minutes that changed my life. Imagination lived in that wonderland, in a way rarely seen in today's cinema.
However, up front I must say that this is a brilliantly animated movie and will always be one of my favourites--despite the criticism that follows.
When I purchased my first DVD copy of 'Alice In Wonderland' I was tempted to get rid of my videotape version.
I'm very glad that I didn't and I'll tell you why.
For three quarters of an hour I revelled in the story as well as the artwork involved.
Then we got to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Possible Spoiler Here:
No doubt something went wrong when the engineers were creating the digital transfer. Perhaps someone belched at the wrong time. That is the only explanation I can give for the transfer of two pieces of dialogue. Originally(and my tape version confirmed this) after the pocket watch has gone berserk(what watch wouldn't after having the likes of tea, salt, butter and jam inserted into its inner mechanism?)the White Rabbit says, '...and it was an Unbirthday present, too.' The Mad Hatter replies with, '...It Was?!' Then he and the March Hare throw the Rabbit out of their garden to the tune of the 'Unbirthday Song'. Well on the DVD the two conversations have been reversed making the conversation(and the whole sequence) irrelevant. For me it spoils an otherwise perfect film.
In the hope of finding the problem had been corrected I purchased two more DVD copies. The first of these was the last region 2 release; it was no better than the previous copy. Finally, in desperation, I purchased a region 1 edition(the Gold Collection). You can probably imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the Americans must have suffered from the same problem!
Regretfully I must conclude that ALL copies of Disney's 'Alice In Wonderland' suffer from the same complaint. The only thing I can do is to keep my tape copy(I have no idea how much longer it will last; it's showing considerable wear. I must have had it for at least ten years and maybe longer) until as such time as Disney rectify this irritating situation.
I have never read the books so I'm unable to comment on that aspect of AIW. All I can say is that the film looks and sounds marvellous.
I give the film 9 out of 10 because of the above criticism.
Many books on the subject of Disney's animated films will often only devote a paragraph or two to the film, and in that short paragraph it will invariably mention how "Alice" was a financial flop, how Walt Disney himself wasn't very fond of it, how it's a chilly film. I don't find this film chilly, I find it refreshingly free of sentiment or cliche that can often weigh down other Disney films.
To start with, we have Alice. Unlike Cinderella or Snow White, Alice has a lot of personality. Who among us hasn't been very frustrated that Cinderella just took all the abuse from her stepmother and sisters and was powerless? Alice, on the other hand, is not one of the "shy little violets" and operates on more than just one emotion; she gets mad, befuddled, disgusted, amused, angry and, best of all, she stands up to adults (how odd for the 50's) and tells them when they are being ridiculous. This film has a subversiveness that may have been unintentional in showing how the world of adults, with its rules and logic, can be purely nonsense and that a child can be the only sane person in the lot. (To be fair, this sentiment is in keeping with Lewis Carroll's original books.)
Alice is beautifully voiced by Kathryn Beaumont (who did a similarly excellent job as the voice of Wendy in "Peter Pan" a few years after.) The real appeal of Alice here is that unlike many other Disney heroines,Kathryn Beaumont was a young girl when she recorded the voice and therefore, Alice looks and sounds like a girl of a certain age. Contrast that to Mary Costa's voice and the animated figure of Sleeping Beauty who looks as if she could be a 1950s pinup model despite only being 16.
The story itself is a wild trip through an ever shifting dreamscape most notable for the wild color schemes that anticipate the 1960's motifs. This is not implying that "Alice in Wonderland" is one big drug reference; it is not. Many people who worked on this film have commented that it felt like the film was getting away from them, that the characters took on lives of their own. This is evident as the film just gets wilder and wilder as it goes on with the introductions of the most bizarre and colorful characters Disney ever brought to life.
The only real flaws in the film include a scene when Alice breaks down and berates herself for never following her own advice, this moment stops the film cold in the middle of what has been a non-stop thrill ride. The extremely abrupt ending of the film is a very strange choice. I think even an extra 20-30 seconds between Alice and her sister at the conclusion of the film would have made the film a little stronger.
The story isn't one in the linear sense, but more of a compendium of unrelated series of events. But they all lead to a common goal.
Alice, herself, has some radical ideals when it comes to the world around her, and faces hostility from the adults in her life. But she learns her imagination is mild in comparison to the oddities of Wonderland. She ventures off to this magical world, only to discover she isn't very welcome. She has a terrible time and no one wants her to be there. And at moments, she finds herself questioning the silliness of the realm, appropriating her mindset to that of her closed-minded mother back home.
The depth of Alice is deeper than most realize. It's subtle, but her attitude is brilliant commentary on contrasting our own independent philosophies with those that we're raised on.
Surprisingly, the film is not as dated as you would think. Some of the humor holds up well compared to today's standards.
Considering the very short runtime, the songs are in abundance and create a high ratio to the non-singing scenes. And naturally, there are one or two weaker tunes, but most of them are ear-worm classics.
At 75 minutes, we spend enough time in Wonderland to warrant a complete story. Or collection of events. Alice in Wonderland is meant to be episodic. And it's very dark and deranged at times, too. While many people find that those things make the movie harder to warm up to, it's actually part of what makes it one of my favorite Disney films from the Walt era. An underrated piece of cinema.
Twizard Rating: 95
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The songs in here are nothing noteworthy, but at least they didn't go on too long. For a short film - 75 minutes - it's good "escapist" fare and not a bad way to spend an hour-and-a quarter. Any longer than that, for classic animated films, would be too long, because they didn't have the humor and slam-bang action scenes modern animated films possess.
I would imagine kids of today would be bored by this, compared to what faster-paced stuff they see now....but that's no criticism of this movie, just about attention spans have shortened.