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Alice in Wonderland (Masterpiece Edition) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Alice In Wonderland

Walt Disney Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: G
starring: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Jerry Colonna, Verna Felton, J. Pat O’Malley, Bill Thompson
release year: 1951
film rating: Three Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Mel Odom

“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 Wonderland.”

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 released.

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 system.

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.

Chapter 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 kids’ films.

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 pursuit.

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 evening’s entertainment.

more details
sound format:
All-New Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, THX-Certified, Including THX Optimizer; French And Spanish Language Tracks
aspect ratio(s):
Fullscreen (1.33:1)
special features: Newly 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
Reviewed by: Mel Odom
comments: email us here...
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reference system
DVD player: Pioneer DV-C302D
receiver: RCA RT2280
main speakers: RCA RT2280
center speaker: RCA RT2280
rear speakers: RCA RT2280
subwoofer: RCA RT2280
monitor: 42-inch Toshiba

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