Alice in Wonderland
Release Date: July 28th, 1951
Inspiration: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll
Budget: $3 million
Domestic Gross: $5.6 million
Worldwide Gross: $5.6 million
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
IMDB Score: 7.4/10
Storyline (per IMDB): Alice is a daydreaming young girl. She finds learning poems and listening to literature boring. She prefers stories with pictures and to live inside her imagination. One day, while enduring just such a poetry reading, she spots a large white rabbit…dressed in a jacket and carrying a large watch. He scurries off, saying he’s late, for a very important date. She follows him through the forest. He then disappears down a rabbit hole. Alice follows, leading her to all manner of discoveries, characters and adventures.
Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the 1950s with one of the more interesting films in the entirety of the Disney canon. This was one of those films that was not well-received upon its initial release and would end up gaining a cult following in the years that followed, and to this day it is considered one of the best adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s works. This was always one of my favorites growing up as I always thought that it was a fun movie, and we will see if it manages to hold up especially amongst some of the other films in this canon.
Voice Cast: So prior to this film, the number of actors that are involved in the films was fairly small which makes sense given that most of the films didn’t have a lot of characters. However, that changes here as we have a massive cast here to cover a lot of the characters that show up at some point throughout this film. We do have a few returns here as Verna Felton comes back to voice the Queen of Hearts, Jerry Colonna voices the March Hare, Jimmy MacDonald voices the Dormouse, Sterling Holloway voices the Cheshire Cat, Lucille Bliss and Pinto Colvig voice some minor characters, and finally J. Pat O’Malley voices Tweedledee, Tweedledum, the Walrus, the Carpenter, and the Mother Oyster which is quite the feat. Now get ready because we have a lot of new voices to talk about here and we start right off the bat with Kathryn Beaumont who voices Alice, and she does a good job in voicing Alice and it would be one of her two defining roles with the second coming up shortly. We then have comedian Ed Wynn who voices the Mad Hatter and he brings his upbeat energy to that role in a perfect way, and then we have English actor Richard Haydn who voices the Caterpillar and he is solid in bringing that character to life. We then have Bill Thompson who was famous for voicing Droopy the Dog and he voices the White Rabbit as well as the Dodo in a pair of good performances, and we have Heather Angel who voices Alice’s sister and while she doesn’t have too many lines, she does fine in this brief role. We then have Joseph Kearns who voices the Doorknob in a brief role since we don’t see him too often, and then we have Larry Grey who voices Bill the Lizard and one of the playing cards painting the roses red as by this point many of these actors play characters who appear very briefly in the film. One of the last minor roles here is the King of Hearts voiced by Dink Trout in what would be his final role as he had passed away a year before the film released, and finally we had Doris Lloyd who voices the Rose who conducts the flowers during their song. As mentioned, we did have some actors voice characters that appeared for such a brief time like Queenie Leonard who voices the Bird that calls Alice a serpent as well as the snooty flower, and we have the Mellomen led by Thurl Ravenscroft voicing various playing cards along with Don Barclay who also voices a few cards. Finally, we have Mami Nixon who voices all the flowers in the bed that sing with Alice and Norma Zimmer who is the White Rose singing a solo. For as many actors as we had in the film, they all did a fine job in establishing their characters and many of them would provide some memorable moments from the film to help it stand out.
Princess: Alice is a very interesting character in that I was unsure if she belonged in this category or if she was more of a hero, but in all honesty she’s not really a hero because she doesn’t do anything to save anyone. You could even argue that she doesn’t belong in this category, but for those who do remember the original Kingdom Hearts video game she was listed as one of the Seven Princesses of Heart (spoiler alert). When we first meet her, she does appear to live in a castle though this is never confirmed and she dreams of her own world where everything is not what it seems, and this leads her to Wonderland where she discovers that it isn’t all she thought it was and wants to return to her normal life as we find out her adventures were all just a dream. She is one of the more complex characters in that she at times is not very likeable and has a short temper, but other times she is sympathetic when she expresses her desire to go home. Regardless, she is still a pretty memorable character though where she ranks amongst the rest of the princesses will be interesting when we get to that point.
Villain: We have another pretty memorable villain here for this film and while she doesn’t appear until the last part of the film, she still makes it count and I am of course talking about the Queen of Hearts. She has the appearance of a noble monarch though as we see, she has a very short temper and doles out her favorite form of punishment which is beheading as she has the three cards beheaded for painting her roses red after planting white ones by mistake. She then accuses Alice of humiliating her despite it being the Cheshire Cat and after a mock trial where Alice finally lets her feelings loose, the Queen calls for her head though Alice does manage to awaken from her dream. We could also mention her husband the King of Hearts though he is not really a villain since he is clearly the more level-headed of the two, and he simply goes along with the Queen though she does take some of his suggestions including the trial. Again, it will be interesting to see where the Queen of Hearts ranks amongst the rest of the Disney villains, but she is certainly one of the more memorable ones and is one of the highlights of this film.
Other Characters: Okay, I hope you are ready because we have a lot of characters to talk about here as it seems that every turn that Alice makes while in Wonderland, she encounters someone completely different from what she has previous seen. We start off normally has we have Alice’s sister who also acts as her tutor and she is not too keen on Alice’s lack of interest in her studies, and we also have Alice’s cat Dinah though she is of little consequence. We then have one of the main figures in the film with the White Rabbit who is constantly late for something, and we find out that he works for the Queen of Hearts though it is interesting that she never scolds him for being late even though he is freaking out about being late. Alice then meets the Doorknob who is good at making puns and helping Alice learn to grow and shrink in size courtesy of what she eats and drinks, and then she meets the Dodo and the various animals who partake in a caucus race for no reason. She follows that by meeting Tweedledee and Tweedledum who wish to know what she is doing, and when learning that she is curious about where the rabbit is going they tell her the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter where they encounter a group of curious oysters and the walrus ends up eating them. After an encounter with the rabbit and Dodo where she grows inside the rabbit’s house before shrinking to a tiny size, she meets a group of flowers that she starts to bond with before they reject her by thinking she is a weed. She then meets the caterpillar which ends up leading nowhere expect for him telling her that the mushroom can help her grow or shrink, and then she meets the Cheshire Cat who tries to help her by leading her to the Mad Hatter and the March Hare where they are holding a wild tea party. Alice finally has enough and tries to leave though she can’t find her way and encounters various creatures that are part animal and part household items, and then the Cheshire Cat leads her to the Queen of Hearts, her husband the King and their loyal army of playing cards. She runs afoul of them and tries to get out as she encounters the Doorknob again who informs her that she is simply dreaming and she wakes up to return to the real world. It is an interesting dynamic that she dreams of a world of her own where there is nothing but nonsense, but then when she actually goes through it she does a complete about-face though these characters are pretty memorable and fitting for this film.
Songs: On the surface, this seems like a film that would actually work as a musical since many of the poems from the novels are used in this film in song form, and this seems to be true in practice as there was as many as 30 songs written for this film. Now there was a lot of singing involved in the film, but most of it was just for a few seconds so they won’t be included and we will focus on full songs which there were plenty in this film with some even being recorded but never used in the end. Like all the films prior to this, we have a title song for the film which was a good song to open the film amongst the drawings of who we will see, and then we have Alice singing “In a World of My Own” as she sings about her fantasy world in a solid outing. We then have the Dodo and the animals singing “The Caucus Race” as they simply run around the Dodo while getting splashed by water in a silly song, and then Tweedledee and Tweedledum sing the story about “The Walrus and the Carpenter” which sounds nice only to end in a dark turn with the walrus eating the oysters. We then have the flowers singing “Golden Afternoon” which features a lovely solo and Alice cracking her voice in a funny slip-up, and then we have the centerpiece song of the film with “The Unbirthday Song” sung by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare and it is sung repeatedly during the last moments of the film. Alice then sings her lament song “Very Good Advice” as she realizes that she wants to go home, and finally we have the song “Painting the Roses Red” sung by the cards that are actually painting the roses red to try and save their heads. These songs are pretty interesting in terms of their connection to the film and the novels and while it would be interesting to see how the other songs would’ve fit into the film, the ones we ended up getting were good enough though there is nothing that would probably rank high amongst the other songs in the Disney canon.
Plot: It is interesting that this is the first film that its source material is not just from one novel or story, but rather from two as this film draws inspiration from not just “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” but also “Through the Looking Glass” as well. The story is fairly simple as Alice dreams of a world of her own where everything is complete nonsense, and she ends up being drawn into this world by following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole. She encounters various characters and struggles to find acceptance in the world, and she finally decides that she has had enough and wants to head home as she is sent to the Queen of Hearts by the Cheshire Cat. She plays croquet with the Queen until the Cheshire Cat causes mischief which leads the Queen to order Alice’s execution, and it is finally revealed that everything was just a dream as she wakes up back in the real world. It is a very interesting story to say the least as I’m sure that everyone at some point as had fantasies about their own world, and to see it actually play out is pretty unique and also interesting to see Alice discover that it is not what she had hoped when she first wanted it.
Random Watching Thoughts: We still have the ongoing theme of having a title song for the film; I still would like to know how much this chorus got paid to do these films; So is Alice homeschooled since her sister is teaching her about history?; Dinah has the look on her face like “I stopped following you during your explanation” while Alice was explaining her world; So the original song Alice sings was called “Beyond the Laughing Sky” before being changed to “A World of My Own”; What happened to Alice’s sister when she walked away to the pond?; If the rabbit is running late for something, why would Alice think that he would waste time and stop to tell her where he is going?; It is always funny when people think that people on the opposite end of the world walk upside down; In the words of the doorknob, nothing is impossible; I love how she just casually mentions someone drinking from a bottle marked “poison” because one would know not to drink from a bottle marked “poison”, not to mention the bottle she’s holding simply says “Drink Me”; Of course he would wait until after she shrunk down that he’s locked; I can’t imagine shrinking and growing that much can be good for her body; You would think Alice’s eyes had turned into faucets with the amount of tears she was shedding; Why would she think it was a good idea to get out of the bottle in the middle of the water with those waves coming at her?; So running around and around is the fastest way to get dry though the Dodo does have a fire to help him; There was a bit of a snafu as Alice was wet when she landed on shore, but then when she gets hit by the waves the other times she emerges completely dry; It is a bit weird when Tweedledee and Tweedledum both speak yet you only hear one voice; So we manage to have a sky that is both daylight and nighttime at the same time; That’s a lot of sand the Carpenter had in his shoe; The walrus is completely submerged underwater yet he can still smoke his cigar; Of all the things to talk about, they want to talk about shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, and kings; That one spot of all the fish following the walrus and the oysters seemed very reminiscent of when Pinocchio was looking for Monstro; The carpenter was able to work fast to get that makeshift restaurant made; That’s a pretty dick move by the walrus to trick the oysters into following him so he can eat them; You can’t say the walrus didn’t have it coming when the carpenter chased after him; So the rabbit was running late yet he was able to stop by his house and spend some time there; It’s funny how the rabbit immediately assumes that Alice knows where his gloves are even though she’s never been to his house before; I know the cookies have phrases like “Eat Me”, “Take One”, and “Try Me” on them, but you figured Alice would have better manners and not just eat someone else’s food without asking them first; That’s a strong house to be able to stay structurally stable even when Alice grows inside it; The Dodo sees how big Alice is and yet is convinced they can pull her out through the chimney; Poor Bill just went flying into the air and we don’t know his fate; The dodo is just willing to destroy someone’s house like that; The dodo just continues on his business to try and burn the house down even after Alice shrinks and chases after the rabbit; So this world has bread-and-butterflies and rocking horseflies; Every flower wants to sing about themselves until the Rose has them sing the song about all of them; I wonder if Kathryn Beaumont was supposed to sing off-key during the song or if it was a genuine slip-up that they just happened to include in the film; They all take turns making fun of Alice expect the one flower who calls her pretty; They were quick to turn on Alice when they thought she was a weed; It seemed pretty controversial that they had the caterpillar smoking from a hookah and blowing the smoke in Alice’s face; Who knew that caterpillars were poets?; If he is three inches high, how much shorter is Alice because one of them is clearly not three inches; That was a quick transformation for the caterpillar to become a butterfly; I wonder who actually spent the time putting all those different signs up; It seems like the Cheshire Cat is here to just confuse Alice and frustrate her; Probably the understatement of the year when the Cheshire Cat says that most everyone is mad; It can’t possible be good to be having that much tea in such a short amount of time; I wonder how many kids would want to celebrate their “unbirthday” after watching this film; The poor Dormouse looks like he hasn’t had any sleep for months; So they move down the table whenever they have clean cups yet they don’t ever seem to have clean cups; The March Hare seemed very disinterested until Alice mentioned Dinah; Of all the things to calm the Dormouse down after he hears the word “cat”, it would take jam on his nose; So why is a raven like a writing desk? Well according to Lewis Carroll in his take on the riddle and I quote, “Because it can produce a few notes though they are very flat, and it is never put with the wrong end in front”; So the Hatter introduces the riddle and Alice says it back which causes them to think her mad, classic pot calling the kettle black; How convenient that they ask about the time and the rabbit just happens to appear; How does a watch end up being two days slow?; The Hatter is wiling to put anything and everything into that watch, but mustard is where he draws the line; They quickly moved on from Alice when she left the party; So Alice wanted her own nonsense world and now that she’s lived it, she realizes it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be and she wants to go home; She wants something to make sense, well she’s in the wrong place; It is weird that the animals disappear when they start crying; That’s quite a shortcut to get to the Queen’s castle; I love how the cards think that painting the roses red will make things better, but what happens when the paint dries and it looks bad on the roses; You wonder how many decks of cards the Queen has since she has a lot of soldiers; The Queen gets a big ovation from everyone while one lone person cheers for the King; So this game of croquet involves the cards, flamingos, and hedgehogs, thank God PETA wasn’t around back then or they would have a field day with this; Alice’s flamingo won’t be too keen to lose his head if it actually happens; The King yells to save the Queen yet all everyone does is surround her so no one sees her; So the March Hare and Mad Hatter were able to take time away from their endless tea party to testify in this trial; Alice is probably thinking “Just cut my head off right now and spare me from this.”; First mental gaffe there by Alice in eating both parts of the mushroom not realizing one will make her shrink; Another mental gaffe by Alice in that they are giving her an out to leave with her life, but she doesn’t take it which costs her when she shrinks back to normal size; The Cheshire Cat was quick to sell Alice out there in the end; If things didn’t already seem like they went off the rails before, they are certainly going off the rails now in this final sequence as Alice tries to escape; I wonder how many audience members rolled their eyes in disbelief at the end when it is revealed that all of this was basically a dream; When her sister said it was time for tea, you almost wanted Alice to say that she was done with tea; I believe this is the first film to have credits at the end of the film.
Overall Thoughts: Overall, the film was pretty solid and was a good entry in the Disney canon though it was a slight step back from Cinderella. This was an interesting film in that it was not very successful when it was in theaters, but it would ultimately benefit from being on television early on and would go onto become a cult classic which solidified its status as a Disney classic. It was also a big moment for Disney as he would see the benefit of television and what it could offer, so while his main focus was on the big screen he was also looking to expand his influence onto the small screen. As for Alice in Wonderland, it is a very solid film and a perfectly fine entry in the Disney canon.
Final Grade: 7.5/10