Jab’s Reviews: Alice in Wonderland
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951)
Writers: Lewis Carroll (original), Milt Banta, Den Connell, William Cottrell, Joe Grant, Winston Hibler, Dick Huemer, Dick Kelsey, Tom Oreb, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears & John Walbridge
This is a famously-nutty movie, giving motivation to millions of psychedelic drug-users the world over. Which makes it all the funnier that it disappointed critics & audiences when it first came out. But just think of how weird this movie is TODAY and consider that they were barely out of World War II at the time.
Basically it’s a type of “Adventure Movie” where the adventures are less dangerous circumstances (mostly) and more “HOLY HELL CHECK OUT ALL THIS CRAZY STUFF GOING ON!!!” as Alice meets all these insane, conniving characters, the Cheshire Cat (who’s basically a Trickster who screws with Alice for the hell of it), and the insane Queen of Hearts, who has a dramatic case of Bipolar Disorder. Y’can’t really SUM UP any of this nonsense- it’s just a weird film. It’s actually a “and then I woke up and it was all a dream” story, too, which I remember being told was an awful cliche even as a child.
The movie was a long-time labor of love for Walt Disney, who’d had adaptations in mind since the ’30s. Given that it’s such an insane story, it proved difficult to get right- the limitations of animation at the time meant that it had to pretty much be done in the “Disney House Style”, meaning some of the more fanciful art and darker tales had to be cut out- they just didn’t know how to make a feature out of anything experimental yet.
The Cheshire Cat- one of the most memorable Tricksters (ie. trolling assholes) in movies.
Reception & Cultural Impact:
Possibly the greatest example of Disney’s ubiquitousness in pop culture is the fact that ALICE IN WONDERLAND is even most well-known through its Disney version! Like, this is a FAMOUS STORY! Lewis Carroll is extremely well-known! But nope- even HE takes a backseat to Disney’s creation. This is particularly annoying for Alice fans, since the Disney version actually takes TWO Alice stories and combines them together into one- so now they constantly have to explain to people what the differences are.
The movie did very well, but disappointed some at the time, especially Carroll’s fans, since it altered so much. It didn’t do that well when it was released, either- even the DISNEY people were disappointed in it: Walt felt that it lacked heart, and animator Ward Kimball suggested that all the animators tried so hard to top each other that they ending up nullifying the final project- burying it under everyone trying to show off their best stuff that there was no time for a concentrated story.
That the movie is now wildly popular, influential and famous is proof that the years have just been very, VERY kind to it. It now comes off as a great acid trip with very memorable visuals.
The film gave its name to a ton of Disney Parks attractions- the infamous Spinning Teacups (which can be turned into the most hurl-worthy action ride in the parks if you do it right), the “Alice” dark ride in Disneyland (with a great sequence where you look like you’re “flying”, though Fall Safety Regulations has ruined the illusion of that scene), and a hedge maze in Disneyland Paris. Alice stuff also appears in some parades, especially the Main Street Electric Parade.
Alice, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit have all become cultural icons, with their Disney versions being most prominent. Kathryn Beaumont impressed enough as Alice that she got the role of Wendy Darling in the very next Disney Animated production (the characters even look alike, being drawn in the same style). And the reputation of Disney’s version led to a FANTASTICALLY-profitable Alice in Wonderland Live-Action Remake in the 2000s by Tim Burton, the one Hollywood director Film Snobs are still allowed to like.
This movie did so insanely well (featuring Burton’s muse, Johnny Depp) that it inspired a sequel… which became one of the worst bombs the Disney studio ever put out. It’s not hard to see WHY, exactly- the Box Office was tiring of the schtick of both Burton & Depp at the time (Burton had long since lost his signature style and aimed towards “weirdness”, while Depp as his Male Muse was always just “Playing goofy” after a point), and it seemed like a hotly-contested summer at the movies.
What I remember most about this is that the Disney Stores and Toys R Us locations in town were just DELUGED with unsold, “shelfwarming” Through The Looking Glass shit, especially as the merchandise was very, VERY high-quality, and thus very expensive stuff. All of those dolls were designed with the near-exact likenesses of the stars of the film, and so they had a corresponding COST. So when the movie fell on its ass at the box office… nobody wanted any of this crap. So I saw these things literally sit on the shelves for MONTHS, leading to massive, embarrassing price reductions.
But the original movie? Still one of the legendary Disney productions. Not as beloved as most of the Princess Movies, nor as iconic as Peter Pan, but it’s up there.