Alice in Wonderland invites you to go tumbling down the rabbit hole. With perhaps the most surreal movie Walt Disney ever produced. Alice in Wonderland is based on one of the most beloved children’s fantasy novels ever written. While under the very obvious influence of drugs, Lewis Carroll created a wonderful world of curious nonsense. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are 1800’s books that popularized that most unusual subgenre. Walt Disney was a fan of the Alice books since childhood. It was always his intention to bring it to the big screen.
First as a live-action/animation hybrid, then as a much more appropriate entirely animated feature. The war and production cost forced Disney to put Alice in Wonderland on hold along with three other projects. Although done simultaneously, Cinderella beat Alice in Wonderland to become the first of the Silver Age. While the latter became the thirteenth animated Disney film. Which was surprisingly panned by critics and longtime book fans alike. Most complained that there was too much Disneyfication of the mad Carroll tale. At least until the more psychedelic 60’s came around, which earned Alice in Wonderland the appropriate rank of cult classic…
Alice in Wonderland was so nonsensical that my childhood history with the movie was just as unusual. I definitely saw it a couple of times on VHS, but certain moments stood out to me more than others. I have fond memories of the tea party and ending with the Red Queen more than anything else. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Rather than frontwards, I should go backwards. Alice in Wonderland begins in a barely seen Victorian England that centers around Alice. Disney’s third animated heroine who’s sometimes included in the princess lineup. Rather than a child like in the books, Alice is an elegant, well mannered, young lady with her head in the clouds. Notably dressed in her iconic puffy blue dress.
Alice imagines a Wonderland where everything is nonsense. So we start by seeing a White Rabbit dressed in a waistcoat carrying a pocket watch. He’s late, he’s late, for a very important date! So in classic Disney fashion, Alice goes tumbling down the rabbit hole and into the curiouser and curiouser world of Wonderland. A colorful land where nothing makes sense. In her movie long pursuit of the White Rabbit, Alice meets all sorts of truly mad characters. The first is a doorknob that convinces Alice to grow smaller and larger. Since in Wonderland, “Drink Me” bottles make you shrink and “Eat Me” biscuits make you grow. It’s her tears that help her through the keyhole.
Then Alice crosses paths with a sailor Dodo and the oddball pair Tweedledee & Tweedledum. Egg shaped twins that tell Alice the tale of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” A surprisingly dark story about a walrus that tricks a group of baby oysters into becoming dinner. Alice eventually catches up to the Rabbit, but grows to the size of house instead. When she shrinks again, Alice is greeted by a bouquet of rude talking flowers that mistake her for a weed. Then Alice meets the most obvious drug metaphor in the book. An articulate hookah-smoking Caterpillar that instructs Alice to grow by ingesting mushrooms. Alice then meets the hilariously random Cheshire Cat. A mad grinning cat that can disappear.
However, the most famous scene in Alice in Wonderland is of the mad tea party. Where the goofball Mad Hatter and insane March Hare are celebrating their Unbirthday with the drunken Dormouse. Why today is my unbirthday too. The tea party is full of nonsensical tea gags that go absolutely nowhere. When Wonderland becomes too much for Alice, the Cheshire Cat returns to point her in the direction of the Queen. The last character we meet in the slowly paced movie. After helping her army of playing cards paint the roses red, Alice encounters the Queen of Hearts (and the King). She’s a loud pompous tyrannical Disney Villain known for the phrase “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” A quick game of flamingo croquet brings out her temper and Alice is sent to court. Where every mad Wonderland resident comes flooding in and finally wakes Alice up.
Animation is the only medium that could bring Alice in Wonderland to life. With trippy visuals much in the style of Fantasia. Character designs remained very faithful to the original illustrations. Making almost everyone in Wonderland a Disney icon. Music was another priority with memorable songs like “I’m Late,” “Painting the Roses Red,” and my personal favorite “The Unbirthday Song.” The rest of the many songs are less well known. Alice in Wonderland is a wonderfully silly piece of nonsensical art.