-This review pertains to the 2-disc Masterpiece Edition DVD of Alice in Wonderland-
Early on in Walt Disney's career, he had wanted to tell the story of Alice in Wonderland. As early as 1923 he had begun a series of short films, which featured a young girl in the role of Alice and integrated her live-action performance with animation. So it's no surprise that he wished to make a full-length film based upon Lewis Carroll's classic stories. What is a surprise is that, in 1951 when the film was finally released, Walt Disney was extremely disappointed. He felt that the film lacked an emotional center and that the characters were weak and unmemorable. Perhaps his discontentment was caused by his high expectations or maybe Walt simply didn't understand that the film was a masterpiece, but whatever the reason for his disliking the film, it has gone on to become a classic (of all of the films made while Walt Disney was alive, this film, Fantasia, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmatians are my favorites).
The story, which combines elements from Alice's Adventures in Wonderlandand Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There, was unfairly criticized for deviating from Lewis Carroll's original text. But of all the film adaptations inspired by the Alice books, this is one of the most faithful to the spirit and essence of the books despite the many changes to chronology and the deletion of many sequences. Disney's Alice in Wonderland is a delightful, song-filled and beautifully animated adventure into a world of nonsense and absurdity.
The story begins with Alice, who's grown tired of her lessons in history, daydreaming of a world of her own; a world where flowers talk, where animals behave like people and people behave like fools, a world where the laws of physics wouldn't apply. Suddenly her fantasy is intruded upon by a white rabbit, dressed in his finest and carrying an umbrella and pocket watch, who frantically intones, "I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!" Intrigued, for she has never met a talking rabbit before, Alice runs after the White Rabbit and crawls into his rabbit hole. Within the dark confines of the hole, Alice blindly progresses until she finds herself plummeting into a dark abyss. She falls and falls and falls, all the while taking notice of her strange surroundings. When she finally lands she continues her pursuit of the White Rabbit until she comes to a door. The Doorknob insists that Alice is much too big to fit through such a tiny door, so he suggests that she drink from the bottle on the table, which appears out of nowhere, and then will change size. Alice drinks from the bottle and shrinks until she's just the right height to fit through the door when the Doorknob tells her that he is locked and that the key is on the table far above them. This is remedied when a box of cookies magically appear and when Alice takes a bite she grows taller than ever before. Though she can now reach the key, she's no longer able to fit through the door and thus she begins to cry. Soon her tears form an ocean and when Alice drinks from the bottle and shrinks again, she lands in this ocean where she is eventually carried to shore. Now her adventures really begin as she meets one bizarre character after another. First she meets the sea captain, Dodo Bird and then the mischievous brothers Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Soon she catches up to the White Rabbit only to face greater obstacles. She encounters talking flowers who think she's a common weed, an erudite caterpillar that gives her lessons in grammar, and she meets the mysterious Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. She discovers a kingdom of playing cards that are ruled over by the cruel Queen of Hearts, who demands obedience or else threatens beheading. Alice's Wonderland becomes a surreal nightmare and she barely manages to escape the only way she knows how, by waking up.
This DVD contains a glorious restoration of the film as well as numerous bonus features including a "Virtual Wonderland Party", two Sing Along Songs, "Adventures in Wonderland" set-top game, a newly discovered Cheshire Cat song, and the classic Mickey Mouse cartoon, Thru the Mirror. Also included is Walt Disney's first televised program One Hour in Wonderland, two theatrical trailers, two television introductions by Walt Disney, a behind the scenes featurette, an excerpt from the Fred Waring Show, deleted songs and storyboard sequence, and an art gallery. With all of these features this DVD deserves a place on your shelf of Disney favorites.
Imaginatively rendered but slightly chilly, this 1951 Disney adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic is also appropriately surreal. Alice (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont) has all the anticipated experiences: shrinking and growing, meeting the White Rabbit, having tea with the Mad Hatter, etc. Characterization is very strong, and the Disney team worked hard to bring screen personality to Carroll's eccentric creations. For a Disney film, however, it seems more the self-satisfied sum of its inventiveness than a truly engaging experience.