I’ll say from the outset of this review that I’ve got a problem with Alice in Wonderland that has nothing to do with Disney or any other production company. My beef is with Lewis Carroll. The issue I have is that, while the characters and situations in which Alice finds herself are marvellous, the overarching narrative is flatter than a snooker table.
For much of the story, Alice simply wonders from one encounter to another, without understanding anything about the characters she encounters or the interaction between them. I suspect this structure was intended to work in the context of a stage production, but I’d contend that it doesn’t lend itself to film whatsoever.
As such, almost everyone who makes an Alice film tries to inject something extra that isn’t in the book, perhaps hoping that it will make up for the lack of an interesting story. Both this version and the Burton live action one last year added Tweedledum and Tweedledee, even though they’re in Through The Looking-Glass, and the 2010 production even threw in the Jabberwocky, which is a nonsense poem also from that later book. Alice is an interesting if confusing read, but a great movie it has yet to be.
The weakness of Alice In Wonderland, therefore, is that it’s all rather fragmented, and you can’t really blame that on Disney. What it did is take the basic form of the Carroll story and tried to make it as dynamic and colourful as possible, which, with varying degrees of success, I think it achieved.
But what really makes Alice In Wonderland stand out for me is the tremendous art design that Mary Blair brought to the project (and took on to Peter Pan), that gives the film an entirely different feel to the features that proceeded it, including Sleeping Beauty.
There is also a superbly sourced cast of voice talent, which includes the inimitable Sterling Holloway as the Cheshire Cat and Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter.
Kathryn Beaumont is Alice, and she’d go on to play Wendy in Peter Pan just two years later. A lovely piece of trivia is that she also did the voices for these two characters for the Kingdom Hearts videogame in 2002.
Alice In Wonderland falls into Disney’s silver age of animation that came after World War II, and marks a significant shift in the creative use of design, and for those reasons alone it’s of massive significance for anyone interested in classic Disney animation.
So how does Alice compare with the high water mark of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray release? It’s not quite that good, but then the dual Blu-ray version of Sleeping Beauty’s production was stunning, and a tough act to follow. Nevertheless, this anniversary release of Alice In Wonderland is still desirable for a number of reasons.
The transfer is remarkably crisp, which suggests that some major restoration work has been carried out on a frame-by-frame basis, with some adjustments to the print’s colour levels, too. The colours in Alice are like being shot in the eye with lemon juice, and mark a huge departure from the pastel shades of Dumbo and Pinocchio.
The film is presented in its original VistaVision 1.37:1 ratio, leaving black bars left and right on widescreen TVs. Disney seems so appalled by this idea that one of the extras enables you to fill these bars with Michael Humphries artwork if you so desire.
From an audio perspective, the mono soundtrack has been remixed into six channel DTS HD for English, and DTS 5.1 for both Spanish and Dutch viewers. I guess purists might whine that this is a distraction from the original, but people who buy Blu-ray discs are looking for the best experience, not historical accuracy.
In terms of extras, it’s something of a mixed bag. If you’ve got a recent DVD release then you’ve probably seen it all before, and relatively little of it is presented in HD.
There is some special HD material, though, the best of which is an interesting documentary called Through The Keyhole: A Companion’s Guide To Wonderland, which splices the Disney and Carroll stories together. This lasts 76 minutes, and its interviews with Lewis Carroll experts and Disney historians make it well worth watching.
What I’d avoid, if at all possible, is a standard-definition, 59 minute TV special from 1950, which brings all the style and majesty that the words “The Coca-Cola Company and your Coca-Cola bottler bring you holiday greetings” might suggest.
Disney has also put a couple of games on the disc, which probably won’t keep the Xbox generation amused for more than 10 seconds.
Overall, this Blu-ray release of Alice has some nice things in it, but they’re in amongst other, less desirable items you’d probably want to skip.
Animation buffs will have already ordered their copy, so is it of interest to those who don’t count themselves in that grouping? Yes, I think so, as it’s charming and provocative, even if it doesn’t have the musical allure of The Jungle Book, or the personality of Dumbo. All the classic Disney features have merit, and Alice In Wonderland just has it in different places than you’d normally expect.
Alice In Wonderland is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.
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