Alice in Wonderland (1951)

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951)
Article 1913 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-10-2006
Posting Date: 11-7-2006
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske
Featuring the voices of Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn

Alice pursues a talking rabbit down a hole and ends up in Wonderland.

Up to this point, all of the Disney animated features that I’ve covered I’d already seen some years before I watched them for this series. This is one of the few I’ve never seen, and, to be quite honest, I’ve been somewhat avoiding it. The main reason is simple; I’m a big fan of the original Lewis Carroll stories, which have a unique and very distinct brand of whimsy to them. And though Disney is no slouch when it comes to whimsy, there’s nothing in their oeuvre that leads me to believe that they would have any real grasp on that brand of twisted illogic that drives the Alice stories. It also doesn’t lend itself to Disney’s strengths; since it largely consists of an episodic group of encounters, there’s no real story to begin with, and it is peculiarly lacking in any sort of workable emotional tenor. It’s not that I thought Disney would make a horrible movie based on the books; it’s just that in the process of adaptation, I was sure that the final result would owe much more to Disney than to Carroll. Furthermore, the Tenniel illustrations have set in my mind how the characters should look, but I was pretty sure that Disney would redesign the characters quite a bit.

And now, having seen it, I feel that I was right. Some of Carroll’s verbal humor is still there, but it’s fairly swamped by wild visual slapstick. It tries to add some emotive quality during a scene where Alice gets lost in Tulgey woods and encounters a bunch of bizarre creatures, but that scene does not appear in the Alice books; in fact, it owes more to the Warner Brothers short, PORKY IN WACKYLAND. The characters were indeed redesigned, but, as expected, they didn’t replace the Tenniel illustrations in my mind. The final result isn’t a bad movie, but it is definitely more of a Disney movie than an adapataion of Carroll. In short, no surprises. It’s best elements are the surreal visuals; at moments, it feels like “Pink Elephants on Parade” stretched out to feature-length.

For all their flaws, both the 1933 and 1949 versions are closer to the spirit of the book. Still, when I really want to enjoy that Carrollian sense of whimsy, I’ll go to the obvious place; the book itself. For me, there really is no substitute.

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