ALICE IN WONDERLAND
MOVIE: **** (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
Kathryn Beaumont as ALICE
Sterling Holloway as THE CHESHIRE CAT
Bill Thompson as THE WHITE RABBIT
Ed Wynn as THE MAD HATTER
Jerry Colonna as THE MARCH HARE
Richard Haydn as THE CATERPILLAR
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi
BY KEVIN CARR
I have to admit that most of the characters in “Alice in Wonderland” scared the bejeebus out of me as a child. That’s probably why I don’t remember watching it that much. The only things I remember are those mad eyes of the Cheshire Cat. Back in my childhood, the voice of Winnie the Pooh would never be the same. The Queen of Hearts running around screaming, “Off with her head!” didn’t make things much better.
Now, as an adult watching “Alice in Wonderland,” I have a whole new appreciation for it. Although the movie is undeniably Disney, there is a malevolence behind the animated classic that I appreciate now. There’s something sinister about the creatures in Alice’s little world. After all, a walrus devours a bevy of baby oysters; numerous playing cards are hauled away for execution; and the Cheshire Cat does his darndest to get Alice the death penalty from the overblown queen.
“Alice in Wonderland” is Disney’s “Wizard of Oz.” There’s actually a lot of similarities between the two stories – a young girl is whisked away into a nonsense world where she is pursued by a villainess intent on doing her in before she wakes up from her “dream.” However, Alice’s world is far loonier and mad – and has more teeth. Traditional plots are left aside as the movie is more a series of bizarre events strung together with animation and music. Still, it was a fine departure from the fairy tales of “Cinderella” and “Snow White.”
The extras on the DVD are worthy of the second disc, for sure. However, they tend to blow hot and cold depending on your tastes. The first disc contains the feature, which only runs 75 minutes and frees up plenty of DVD space for some extras up front. Two of the songs – “The Unbirthday Song” (my favorite Disney song as a child) and “All in the Golden Afternoon” – are presented in a Disney Sing Along format, which is fun to play with the kids.
Other features on the first disc include an “Adventures in Wonderland” set-top game, which is your standard DVD pseudo-interactive quiz. Its worth poking around for the younger kids, but like other DVD games really isn’t all that special. The best features on this first disc are the newly discovered (or rather newly released) Cheshire Cat song “I’m Odd” and the original Mickey Mouse animated short “Thru the Mirror,” which takes Mickey on a very Wonderland-ish adventure in his own bedroom mirror.
The only thing that didn’t settle well with me is the “Virtual Wonderland Party,” an interactive collage of live-action tea party sequences. The Mad Hatter, Alice and a handful of kids have a tea party, play games, sing songs and tell riddles. This live-action section takes a bit of the magic out of the film. While the Mad Hatter’s make-up is pretty bad, he does a pretty good impression of his likeness in the film. Additionally, the circumstances are sanitized quite a bit (for example, the “Painting the Roses Red” song talks about “painting your head instead” as opposed to the original lyrics of “going to lose your head”). Ultimately, while the younger kids might get a kick out of this section, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was just another Barney knock-off.
The second disc is filled with a retrospective of Walt Disney’s cross-marketing techniques in the early days of television. While not terribly entertaining in this day and age, these pieces are quite interesting from a historical perspective. There is an early episode of Walt Disney’s own television show, which was more of a “Playboy’s Penthouse” for kids. There are special guests like Edgar Bergen with his pals Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd.
This episode uses the “Alice in Wonderland” film sparingly as the movie was not completed at the time of production. Kathryn Beaumont (who is constantly referred to as “the little English girl who plays Alice”) makes a special appearance at the party. However, it’s a nice look into the early 1950s television.
Another interesting, but not all that entertaining, extra is an except from “The Fred Waring Show.” For those who don’t remember Fred (which included me before I watched the excerpt), he was a Lawrence Welk type on live TV in the 50s. The show had an “Alice in Wonderland” theme, and they performed parts of the story with live actors, including Kathryn Beaumont as Alice and Sterling Holloway as the Cheshire Cat. However, it suffered from all the pitfalls of live television and the fact that the movie hadn’t been released yet (and consequently, none of the actors were remotely familiar in terms of the Disney film). The live stage performance played out more like an uncomfortable community theater production, and I found myself cringing throughout for the sake of the actors.
Other features include some deleted concepts and demos, art galleries, Walt Disney’s TV introductions to the film for broadcast in 1954 and 1964 and the original theatrical trailers. There’s also a Wonderland card game that comes in the package, which is basically a memory card game for kids – a nice extra surprise.
Specifications: Digitally restored and remastered with an all-new transfer; Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. THX-Certified, including THX Optimizer. Fullscreen (1.33:1). French and Spanish Language Tracks and Subtitles.