Alice in Wonderland (1951) takes us down the rabbit hole

Alice_in_Wonderland_(1951_film)_poster

On July 26th, 1951, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland was released in theaters. The 13th Disney Animated Feature was based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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Alice (Kathryn Beaumont, perhaps better known as the voice of Wendy in Peter Pan (1953)), finds herself drawn into an adventure in the topsy-turvy Wonderland after following a White Rabbit down a rabbit hole and falling down into the magical place. While seeking a way out, Alice encounters a wide variety of crazy creatures, from singing flowers, a caterpillar that smokes a hookah, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare and perhaps most importantly, the semi-deranged Queen of Hearts, who has a thing for shouting “off with their heads!!”

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Alice in Wonderland failed spectacularly at the box office and unlike other Disney films, was not re-released to theaters during Walt Disney’s lifetime. At the time of release, critics (and fans of the books) did not appreciate the liberties Disney had taken with the story and felt that he was trying to “Americanize” a great piece of British literature. The film’s reputation has improved in the following decades, but (in my opinion) it still remains one of the lesser known (and somewhat under-appreciated) entries in Disney’s animated film series.

One flaw that I’ve come to recognize in the film is that it is not so much a unified story as it is a series of vignettes (short scenes) ostensibly tied together by the presence of Alice. A notable exception is “The Walrus and the Carpenter” which, being a story told by Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, doesn’t feature Alice at all and really feels like it’s from another story entirely.

Alice in Wonderland “Painting the Roses Red” (1951)

Interestingly, during the production process, almost the entire film was shot live-action for reference, and the footage that survives is a fascinating look into how the earlier Disney films were put together. This was actually a common practice for the Disney studio, though unfortunately not all of the footage has survived to the present day. Some films that I know had live-action footage shot include: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs; Sleeping Beauty; Peter Pan (particularly for scenes involving Tinker Bell interacting with the drawer in the Darling home); Cinderella and Pinocchio.

One of my favorite pieces involves the Un-Birthday Party/The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Broadway Classixs on YouTube synched up the live-action footage with the animated result and it’s amazing to watch the voice actors at work.

Alice in Wonderland Tea Party: Live action vs. animation

What do you think of the animated Alice in Wonderland? Do you think it’s been neglected compared to other Disney films? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios

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3 thoughts on “Alice in Wonderland (1951) takes us down the rabbit hole

  1. Pingback: Alice in Wonderland “All in the Golden Afternoon” (1951) | Film Music Central

  2. Pingback: Alice in Wonderland “The Un-Birthday Song” (1951) | Film Music Central

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