My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
Title: Alice In Wonderland (1951; based on Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll)
The Plot: A precocious little girl imagines herself in Wonderland, a fantastical place overrun by eccentric forest creatures.
The Songs: "Alice In Wonderland," "In A World Of My Own," "I'm Late," "The Sailor's Hornpipe," "The Caucus Race," "How Do You Do And Shake Hands," "The Walrus And The Carpenter," "Old Father William," "Smoke The Blighter Out," "All In The Golden Afternoon," "A-E-I-O-U," "'Twas Brillig," "The Unbirthday Song," "Very Good Advice," "Painting The Roses Red"
A Little History: Walt Disney's bid to bring Lewis Carroll's British fantasy novels to the screen officially began in 1923, with Alice's Wonderland, a Laugh-O-Gram short (and pilot for Disney's popular "Alice Comedies") in which a live-action child has various adventures in a cartoon world. As Walt turned his attention to feature-length films, he intended to make Alice In Wonderland as his debut picture, but the idea was eventually scrapped. After several unsuccessful attempts to revive the project in the 1930s, production on Alice finally began in 1946, with the focus on experimental animation (à la Fantasia and The Three Caballeros) rather than a straight-forward narrative structure. Disney turned to artist Mary Blair to help design an iconic look of the film (indeed, her bold color choices are revered by historians today). Over two dozen songs were written for the movie, though only a handful made the final cut, with most of these ("How Do You Do and Shake Hands," "'Twas Brillig," "Smoke The Blighter Out") lasting only seconds. Upon its release, Alice In Wonderland was met with great disdain from fans of the books, who felt Disney "Americanized" the characters. The film recouped only $2 million of its $3 million budget, and wasn't re-released to theaters until 1974, to cash in on the "psychedelic" public palette of the time.
How It Broke New Ground: The first animated Disney film shown on television, as the second episode of ABC's Disneyland in 1954 (though it was heavily edited to fit the show's hour-long time slot). Also the first animated feature to credit its voice actors alongside their cartoon counterparts. Leonard Maltin's The Disney Films reports that no less than five separate directors supervised different sequences in the film, each one trying to top the last in scope and imagery.
How It Holds Up Today: Complete and utter nonsense – and as pitch-perfect an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice novels as anyone's likely to get. That didn't stop literary critics from disowning it completely, which is ironic, since Disney's version is the one that's etched itself into the public consciousness. So many visuals stick with you (some taken directly from the page): Alice, in her pastel-blue Victorian dress, floating past assorted household fixtures as she tumbles down the rabbit hole; her first encounter with the Cheshire Cat, whose grin stays behind even as the rest of his body disappears; and the march of the Queen's card army, who shuffle in and out of formation as they go about their nonsensical duties. What's missing, though, is a plot to hinge them all on. The movie is all incident, with no rhyme or reason for any of it – just the episodic ramblings of an impulsive pre-teen girl, never content, who dreams of living a life without rules or history lessons and gets more than she bargained for. (Though, to be fair, the song "In A World Of My Own" tells us basically everything we're about to see, from cats and rabbits "dressed in shoes and hats and trousers" to flowers with "extra special powers"). As for Alice, well, she may be persistent but she's really more of a brat. You spend the whole movie wishing she'd just snap out of it already and wake up.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Still need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, and Cinderella. Please comment!