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Alice In Wonderland (1951)

DVD Cover (Walt Disney Studios Un-Anniversary Edition)
Movie Connections:
Alice In Wonderland
> Alice In Wonderland (1933)
> Alice In Wonderland (1951)
> Alice In Wonderland: An X-Rated... (1976)
> Alice In Wonderland (1985)
> Alice (1988)
> Alice In Wonderland (1999)
> Alice (2009)
> Alice In Wonderland (2010)
> Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016)
Genres:
Animated Fantasy, Animated Feature Film, Animated Musical, Animation, Children's / Family, Children's Fantasy, Fairy Tales & Legends
Directors:
Clyde Geronimi Clyde Geronimi
Wilfred Jackson Wilfred Jackson
Hamilton Luske Hamilton Luske
Starring:
Kathryn Beaumont Kathryn Beaumont
Ed Wynn Ed Wynn
Richard Haydn Richard Haydn
Sterling Holloway Sterling Holloway
Jerry Colonna Jerry Colonna

7.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: February 26, 2014
A few months ago, one of my best friends passed away. She was one of the biggest bibliophiles you could ever hope to meet, and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was her absolute favorite; her extensive book collection had no less than fifteen different copies and variations of it. It's her birthday today, and I'd like to review a handful of adaptations as something of a tribute to her. Naturally, Walt Disney's 1951 is arguably the most famous release, even sixty-three years later.

The thing about this story is that it's ridiculously hard to write an in-depth plot synopsis because once we get going, it's pretty much a collection of chance encounters with a variety of zany characters. One sunny afternoon, Alice is lounging around with her cat, Dinah, and her older sister who's attempting to tutor her in history. Naturally, the young girl wants nothing to do with the lesson and is lost in her daydreams, telling Dinah how great it would be to live in a world of nonsense. She may get her wish, as she looks up and sees a white rabbit dressed in a jacket and staring nervously at a stop watch. She just has time to hear it mutter how late he is before he dashes by; naturally, this is just the sort of curiousness she was striving for and quickly chases after it. Perhaps she shouldn't have been so hasty, as she chases it right into a rabbit hole, and falls into a world unlike anything she's ever seen, filled with creatures that can only come from the wildest of imaginations.

Before I started writing these, I sat down and reread the book, and it surprised me just how much they took from the source material. Sure, it's not a completely accurate transition from page to screen, but they took a lot more of the smaller little throw-away lines than I had expected them too. I couldn't help but smile at the Caucass Race scene and the pigeon's accusatory cries of "SERPENT!" The majority of the changes were done to streamline the story, and they were extremely successful in that regard. Primarily, Alice's motivation on her quest is chasing the White Rabbit, so he turns up in a few extra scenes where he didn't originally appear. Disney incorporated him perfectly, again pulling jokes straight out of the source material and re-attributing them at the Rabbit's expense. Also, they decided to add in some pieces from the book's sequel, Through the Looking Glass, which have gone on to become some of the most well-known parts of the movie. After all, what would Disney's Wonderland be without Tweedledee and Tweedledum and the rowdy Unbirthday Party?

Still, there were some changes made that perhaps shouldn't have been, and both of them take the shape of slow songs that drag things down to much. The first of which was "Golden Afternoon" sang by a bed of flowers (another Looking Glass addition) that serves only to take up time. The second of which is "Very Good Advice" while lost in the Tulgey Wood (both the name of the woods and the titular line in the song are more wink wink moments to the book) and it completely changes the tone of the story. The scene occurs where Alice has decided she's had enough of the adventure and just wants to go home, chastising herself for not thinking before launching herself down the rabbit hole. Originally, Walt wanted Looking Glass' White Knight to teach her the lesson, but he felt she should learn it for herself, meaning he really wanted it in there, but why? It changes her entire adventure from "a wonderful dream" to one of regret. That whole concept should have been axed, creating time for some of the other characters that were considered but later dropped. Specifically, I'm not happy that my favorite character, the Mock Turtle, was shelved "for pacing reasons." I'm assuming they weren't fond of the way his scene comes between the two with the Queen of Hearts, but this movie was really just a collection of the best scenes in both books anyway, they could have thrown him in there anywhere.

Still, none of those decisions had too much collateral damage in the grand scheme of things. Even though I abhorred that particular lesson had to be taught, it didn't alter one very important fact: The movie is incredibly fun. I had a ball reliving some key moments from the book, and you can tell the voice actors had just as much fun making it as I did watching it. Ed Wynn's goofy Hatter, the sly tenor of Sterling Holloway's Chesire Cat, and Richard Haydn's Caterpillar has exactacuhly the right mixture of charisma and disinterest. Even the animators got into the act: calling the deck of soldier cards' psychedelic march merely eye-popping would be an insult, and who could forget the caterpillar's projectile hookah letters or the very many pouring gags during the tea party? Everyone involved in the production put a lot of love into the final project, and it definitely shows.

Alice in Wonderland is considered one of Disney's Animated Classics, and it definitely holds up today. Nine times out of ten, when people think of an Alice in Wonderland character, they're likely going to think of the Disney versions. Plus, the characters are still a staple at the company's theme parks, to say nothing of the infamous teacup ride, which has emptied many a stomach over the years. Whether judging it as an adaptation or a stand-alone film, it stands strong either way. High eight, low nine for this one.
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