On this day in Film History: Alice in Wonderland (1951) takes us down the rabbit hole

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65 years ago, 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.

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. 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

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*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios

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