The Disney Marathon: ‘Alice in Wonderland’


Although we’re in a region where much of the social distancing requirements can be safely lifted, we still like to use Friday for family movie night. This week the randomiser gave us an early non-princess film.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess wannabe) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: Alice in Wonderland

Released: 1951

Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske

Cast: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Jerry Colonna, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, J. Pat O’Malley, Bill Thompson

Plot: Alice grows bored with her her sister reciting from a history textbook and instead follows a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole. She discovers the nonsense world of Wonderland, where nothing follows any logic and the population are mad.

Review: This may come as a surprise, me being an awkward middle aged nerd, but I have a fondness for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In addition to the original story by Lewis Carroll, I’m quite keen of the wide variety of adaptations available. There’s over a hundred film adaptations adopting a range of techniques, there’s gothic video games, gore soaked horror comics, drugged induced madness, bright and colourful re-imaginings and more. Perhaps because it’s one of the first versions of the story I became familiar with, but I consider this Disney animated version of the truest adaptation of the source material. Although they cribbed some material from the sequel story and changed her hair colour, they recreate many memorable moments perfectly and capture the oddball tone of the classic.

The story opens with the unusually blonde Alice lazing by the river while her sister reads a book that doesn’t have any pictures or conversations. Her attention is caught by the unusual sight of a white rabbit dressed in a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch, distressed that he’s ‘late’. Intrigued, Alice follows her down the rabbit hole, gently floating deep into the Earth, finding the bizarre Wonderland. While in pursuit of the White Rabbit, Alice is grown, shrunk, sentenced to death, attends a mad tea party, is told horrifying stories by obstructive twins and suffers many other strange encounters on her way home.

The benefit of the story being a random series of encounters is that you can create a largely episodic adventure, with every individual encounter playing out like a comedy or musical sketch with the only connecting tissue being the out place protaganist. This means that if you hit a slow or dull point it isn’t long before you get a scene with the Cheshire Cat or the Red Queen. The songs are not even a little bit memorable, but it doesn’t feel like they hold the movie back because they quickly get replaced by the next routine.

It occurs to me that I haven’t gone into much detail about the characters Alice meets on her journey, but that’ll be because they’re so well known that I assume you know them all. The massive Red Queen and her cowed husband, the enigmatic grinning cat and the Mad Hatter’s incomprehensibility are so ingrained in the public consciousness that they are frequently riffed on without feared of distancing the audience. It’s the Disney version of the characters who most people are familiar with, including the assumption that Alice in blonde (Disney were concerned with having a number of dark-haired princesses in a row).

The Disney adaptation of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland has become such a well known version that some encounters have been swapped out with characters from the sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, and been included in future adaptations as though they’re from the same source. The Duchess and her cook don’t make an appearance, but Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum make the trip from the Looking Glass and are now considered an essential part of the canon. Although recurring character Bill the Lizard is reduced down to a single appearance, the talking doorknob is an entirely original movie character who has become synonymous with Alice in Wonderland.

It’s a special type of adaptation that not only captures the spirit while changing the word, but it’s another level that adds new material that perfectly blends in with the world.

So now that we’ve adequately showered praise on one of my favourite tales, this is far from a perfect movie. As mentioned before the bulk of songs are completely forgettable. Apart from some of the goofy limericks like ‘A Very Happy Unbirthday’ and ‘Painting the Roses Red’ you probably don’t remember any of them. Alice herself is, by definition, a blank slate character (especially as a key theme of the book is the loss of a sense of identity), so she’s a bit unlikeable.

It’s not a perfect film, but it has a timeless quality thanks to the high quality of animation and understanding of the original story. It’s still a fun watch, hopefully they don’t turn out a generic life-action remake that ridiculously gives everything in Wonderland a logical explanation. That’ll be dumb.

Weirdest Trivia: Although the movie isn’t known for its songs, it has more than any other Disney movie. Also characters.

If you were wondering, there is no answer to the riddle ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk’?

Rating: EIGHT out of TEN

THE RANKING

ME

If you can’t tell, this is a big win for me. I love the nonsense characters, each living in their own world. I also very much enjoy that it’s become a genre of its own, with the familiar characters remixed and retold in new ways.

You can click on those titles below if you want to see what we said about those films.

  1. Robin Hood
  2. Aladdin
  3. Wreck-It Ralph
  4. Alice in Wonderland
  5. Beauty and the Beast
  6. Moana
  7. Big Hero 6
  8. Tangled
  9. The Sword in the Stone
  10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  11. Mulan
  12. Emperor’s New Groove
  13. Fantasia
  14. The Three Caballeros
  15. The Princess and the Frog
  16. Oliver & Company
  17. The Aristocats
  18. A Goofy Movie
  19. Treasure Planet
  20. Chicken Little

AMELIA

Amelia enjoyed this movie in spite of being initially hesitant about it. I think she’d seen it a few years earlier and the characters made her uncomfortable, but now she’s in the spirit of things.

  1. Emperor’s New Groove
  2. The Three Caballeros
  3. Moana
  4. Mulan
  5. Alice in Wonderland
  6. Wreck-It Ralph
  7. A Goofy Movie
  8. Tangled
  9. The Princess and the Frog
  10. Robin Hood
  11. Beauty and the Beast
  12. Oliver & Company
  13. The Aristocats
  14. The Sword in the Stone
  15. Aladdin
  16. Treasure Planet
  17. Big Hero 6
  18. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  19. Chicken Little
  20. Fantasia

JOSHUA

Joshua had a total polar reaction to Amelia – he hated it! Put it on par with Chicken Little.

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Aladdin
  3. Emperor’s New Groove
  4. Treasure Planet
  5. Moana
  6. The Three Caballeros
  7. Wreck-It Ralph
  8. Mulan
  9. The Princess and the Frog
  10. Robin Hood
  11. The Sword in the Stone
  12. Beauty and the Beast
  13. Oliver & Company
  14. Tangled
  15. A Goofy Movie
  16. The Aristocats
  17. Fantasia
  18. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  19. Alice in Wonderland
  20. Chicken Little