Alice in Wonderland
Noell Wolfgram Evans · May 1, 2004 | Alice in Wonderland is one of the more curious of Disney's animated features. Released in 1951, at the tail of the studios' Golden Age, it features great humor, excellent pacing, strong animation and a couple of memorable songs (for example, "I'm Late" and "The Unbirthday Song"). But it also lacks an inherent warmth, which might be the reason that it never has completely grasped a hold on the hearts of both the general Disney fan and the more serious animation student. The company is most likely betting that the movies' recent release on DVD will change that.

Alice in Wonderland has just been released as part of Disney's Masterpiece Edition series, meaning it's been given the deluxe, two-disc, special feature, interactive game, making-of featurettes treatment.

The Disney film is actually a compilation of two of author Lewis Carroll's books: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. These two books together contain ninety characters cavorting across a countless number of scenes. It took fourteen Disney writers to whittle down (and in some cases combine) characters, manipulate settings and streamline the story so that it could fit into a 75-minute feature film. While they came up with a competent whole, the story is really the piece of the film that is the weakest link. It's not that it's bad, it's just that it at times feels disjointed, like things were slammed together not because they made the most story sense but because they made good animated sequences. And don't get me wrong—the sequences are very good and some, like the Tea Party, even have wit and energy that the studio rarely was able to reach in subsequent films (1992's Aladdin being the possible lone exception). This has nothing to do with keeping the "purity" of the book; you have to expect that certain liberties are to be taken with any film adaptation. It has more to do with making that adaptation at least close to its source material.

Alice in Wonderland
Walt Disney Pictures, 2004
Originally released in 1951
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske
75 minutes

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There is a feeling that the production team understood that Alice was shaping up to be a structured collection of scenes and so they tried to turn that into a positive by peppering the film with songs (14 in all—much more than other animated features); ratcheting up the pace; giving the script a hard edge (that works for comic effect when you let it); and giving the animators the ability to stretch themselves. It's not like the animation team went UPA here, but they were able to play with space and form in more ways than they usually could. The result is a strong, vibrant, edgy and in some ways stylized (for Disney at least) picture. It's all of those parts that has made this film the classic that it's become.

If you've heard anything about this DVD set, you've probably heard about what it doesn't contain, with comparisons being drawn to a heavily laden, behind-the-scenes series that accompanied the laserdisc release. Granted, there aren't the exhaustive details on the making of this film. There are some of the requisite pieces, but the majority of the special features are time capsule pieces, showing in essence how the movie was marketed at the time of its initial release. They're interesting from a 1950s and Disney history point of view but they don't necessarily enhance the viewing experience.

Leonard Maltin has characterized Alice in Wonderland well, saying "It's a movie whose parts outshines its whole..." And it is in a way like spending a weekend at my sister's: you have some good times when you're there but on the drive home you're really not sure about the overall experience. And yet in both cases, you can't wait to go back for more.

DVD Features: A virtual Wonderland Party including riddles, silly songs & dancing, a Teapot orchestra, Mad Hatter Says interactive game, and other games and stories; the 1936 Mickey Mouse short "Thru the Mirror," a "lost scene" featuring a previously unheard song from the Cheshire Cat; a set-top game; "One Hour in Wonderland," a 1950s television show (Disney's first television foray); the short Alice's Wonderland, Disney's early attempt at telling the Alice story; an interactive game with a live-action Mad Hatter; two 1950's television excerpts, "Operation Wonderland" and "The Fred Warring Show;" storyboards; song demos; concept art galleries.
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