Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Jerry Colonna, Verna Felton, J. Pat O’Malley, Bill Thompson
“Alice In Wonderland” enjoys the distinction of being probably one of
the best-known stories ever told. Lewis Carroll’s wildly improbable
tale of the little girl who fell through the rabbit hole while chasing
a rabbit with a pocket watch has seized the imagination of millions of
book lovers and movie lovers for generations. Most people assume that
Lewis Carroll was a real person and either forget or don’t know that
Carroll was an illusion created by Charles Dodgson, who didn’t want
people to know that he’d penned anything as frivolous as “Alice In
Prior to this Walt Disney film version from 1951, which was remastered
for the two-disc set, “Alice In Wonderland” was made into a movie first
in a silent film in 1903 and again in 1915. Other movies based on the
book were shot in 1931, 1933, and 1936, making the story a well-covered
piece by the time Disney chose the book as the subject for their
animated film. The 1950 British and French film featuring puppets,
mixed with a live actress playing Alice, drew a tremendous amount of
heat when it debuted a year ahead of the Disney effort. In fact, Disney
Studios even went so far as to try to suppress the film and keep it out
of American theaters until Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” could be
Unfortunately, “Alice in Wonderland” doesn’t quite hold up to the same
standards as Disney’s other animated works of the era, such as “Dumbo,”
“Bambi” or “Sleeping Beauty.” In fact, the sheer surreal world that
Alice drops into seems so much like a video game that nothing appears
at risk. All of Disney’s earlier efforts struck a strong chord with
family, friends and life-altering circumstances, featuring a plucky
character who manages to seize control of his or her destiny and put
the world back on track.
Chapters 1 and 2 roll through the introductions, complete with stirring
music, but the story doesn’t take off until Chapter 3. The movie
introduces Alice sitting in a tree, only halfway paying attention to
her lessons from her governess on the ground below. Young Alice plays
with her cat, displaying Disney’s proclivity for winning audiences over
with cute animals, and remarks that the world would be better off if it
were a little more illogical and fanciful. The music underscoring the
exchange between Alice and her governess, with the distraction of the
kitten, puts the audience at ease. Later in that chapter, out of sight
of her governess, Alice performs her first musical number (another
Disney staple in the early animated movies), singing to the flowers as
she skips along. Bird chirps roll through the surround sound system.
However, Alice sings much of this while strolling along beside what
should be a babbling brook. Unfortunately, the brook remains silent,
something that most of the younger audience (and indeed most adults)
will probably never notice.
Chapter 2 introduces the White Rabbit running at full tilt, proclaiming
how late he is for whatever mysterious function he’s supposed to be at.
His words, delivered by veteran voice actor Bill Thompson who went on
to do the voice of Winnie the Pooh, come out almost as a song. Alice
pursues the Rabbit and crawls into a hollow trunk after him. As she
calls out, her voice echoes convincingly through the surround sound
Alice’s long fall down the rabbit hole is underscored by exciting
music. The improbable slowness of the fall, accompanied by the almost
everyday things that Alice does, sets the audience up for the weird
world she has just entered. The talking doorknob in Chapter 5
establishes the fact that anything is possible. From this point on,
puzzles and problems (which were exercises in logic and mathematics in
Carroll’s original book and rarely get screen time in any of the
adaptations) confront and confound Alice on a regular basis. Forced to
change sizes to achieve what she has to do, Alice struggles to become
exactly the right size.
In Chapter 6, music accompanies Alice’s tears of frustration. Then,
menaced by the flood of her own making, Alice finds herself small
enough to be tossed out onto the sea and carried toward an even more
improbable world in Chapter 7. Even before she arrives on land, she
sees the Dodo bird on the water, then spots the White Rabbit again.
After losing the White Rabbit in the forest, she meets up with Tweedle
Dee and Tweedle Dum, who can at first be somewhat scary to very young
viewers because they come across as menacing.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum entertain Alice, or perhaps mystify her,
with the story of the curious oysters, the carpenter and the walrus in
Chapters 8 and 9. Again, singing really moves the story along, and the
music soundtrack on the movie is awesome for the younger set, full of
punch and enthusiasm. However, the message that curiosity is a bad
thing and led to the deaths of the young oysters, is a warning for
Alice and the viewers.
10 and 11 show the return of the White Rabbit, who believes Alice is
someone named Mary Ann. The Rabbit tells Alice to get his gloves, but
she unexpectedly starts growing again and ends up expanding through the
roof of the White Rabbit’s house. The Dodo Bird puts in another
appearance and wants to burn the White Rabbit’s house down to get rid
of the “monster.” Alice manages to save herself as the rattle and
clatter of falling debris from the destroyed house thunders through the
surround sound system.
In Chapters 12 and 13, a group of
snobbish flowers in a garden sing to Alice about their own merits and
beauty. The drums and cymbals, made by strangely shaped creatures
suited for those very purposes, strike up excitement through the
surround sound system and grabs the attention of young viewers.
Alice encounters the Caterpillar in Chapter 14. The caterpillar smokes
a hookah pipe, which is very politically incorrect these days for a
multitude of reasons. The vowels the Caterpillar speaks as questions
and words, as well as Alice’s, are underscored by music, building into
a sight game for the young viewers who are learning to read.
Chapter 15 features an encounter with a bird who thinks Alice is a
serpent simply because she admits to eating eggs. The exchange is quite
playful and humorous, and leads directly into Chapter 16 where Alice
meets the Cheshire Cat, easily the most recognized character in the
movie other than Alice. The Cat, a perpetual favorite with kids, sings
a jazzy number that was probably on the risqué side in its day for
In Chapter 17, Alice shows up at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The humor
between the Mad Hatter and the March Hare is simply delightful. Filled
with puns and inanities, the scene wins over adults as well as children
with the sight gags that come across as rapidly as machine gun fire.
When the White Rabbit shows up in Chapter 18, he is subjected to the
madness of the “unbirthday” celebrants and his pocket watch is
destroyed. Still, the White Rabbit is off and running with Alice in hot
By Chapter 19, Alice has had enough of nonsense and wants to go home.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t know how to get there. Things turn out even
worse for Alice as she eventually finds her way to the Queen of Hearts,
whose “Off with his head! Off with his head!” refrain is one of the
most remembered parts of the film.
As always, Disney packs their two-disc sets with lots of goodies.
Although the games are truly too juvenile to be of little more than
passing interest to even the young viewers, the documentaries on the
various aspects of the filmmaking will delight adult viewers who have
an interest in Disney, animation and/or the history of the juggernaut
that is Walt Disney Studios. Added to that, the wonderful cartoon
starring Mickey Mouse provides a veritable cornucopia of rewards for
viewing this set.
Despite the history that “Alice in Wonderland” brings to the table,
shortcomings do exist. All but the youngest audience members are going
to notice the lack of personal investment on part of Alice throughout
this movie. Alice simply scurries through her adventures without real
risk or without really changing anything or anyone she’s come in
contact with. Still, this is one of the movies that kept the creative
and amazing Disney machine moving forward, and “Alice in Wonderland”
will always find a home on the family shelves. Parents with small
children will want to pick this one up or at least rent it for an
All-New Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, THX-Certified, Including THX Optimizer; French And Spanish Language Tracks
Discovered Cheshire Cat Song “I’m Odd”; Virtual Wonderland Party;
Adventures In Wonderland Set-Top Game; “The Unbirthday Song” And “All
In The Golden Afternoon” Sing Along Songs; Original Mickey Mouse
Animated Short “Thru The Mirror”; Closed Captioned