Thursday, May 3, 2012
Curiously Brilliant: Disney’s “Alice In Wonderland”
Disney’s Thirteenth Animated Feature - 1951
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland doesn’t open in the classic Disney fashion, showing the opening of an animated storybook; which is ironic, since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland is arguably the best source material Disney had worked with to date. Carroll’s fantastical novel with its magical transformations and talking animals begs to be animated. In fact, Disney made his name as an animator in 1923 with a silent, black and white Alice In Wonderland in an animation where he combined footage of a child actor as Alice cavorting in a fanciful, animated world.
Disney tried to bring this story to the big screen again in 1939, but was unable to come up with a look for the story that captured his imagination. It wasn’t until Mary Blair joined his team and created concept sketches (see them here) featuring her signature bold color palette and warped, dream-like perspectives that Disney was convinced to revive the project. This version of Alice In Wonderland has a bit in common with Disney’s package films of the WWII era: they feature star talent including the voices of Ed Wynn and Jerry Colonna (as the Mad Hatter and March Hare) and features a structure that is episodic in nature—like the text—so that the entire film feels like a series of shorts instead of a long, single narrative.
There’s often an odd menace afoot, and characters such as the Cheshire Cat and Caterpillar seem to enjoy toying with her. The completely silly tea party scene with the Mad Hatter and March Hare is madness itself, but everyone does get to celebrate their “un-birthday,” which occurs on the 364 days of the year that are not your birthday.
There’s nothing here a modern parent would find objectionable. In fact, Alice In Wonderland is a beauty; an animation that respects its original text and uses it as a springboard to a fanciful, magical, curious, often frustrating world. Alice may not be a princess, but she’s a memorable heroine who deserves her own special place of honor in the Disney archive and on your dvd shelf.