Alice in Wonderland Review
A year after Cinderella and second of Disney’s high-quality animated features released in the fifties is Alice in Wonderland. Released in 1951, it was not a critical darling and that hasn’t particularly changed over the years, but in my opinion, it is one of the studio’s very best films.
Because of its episodic nature, I am going to review from first plot element to the last one (as I did with package films) instead of the usual per characters, music and other aspects.
It starts with Alice bored from listening the book her sister is reading to her, she sees the White Rabbit and follows her to the rabbit hole. This beginning is perfectly edited, it is not too long nor too short, and it introduces us to the character of Alice wonderfully. Next, the journey through the hole is remarkable in terms of its animation and visual style. The next couple of sequences with size-altering food are very faithful to the source material and well-done. Tweedledee and Tweedledum sequence could have easily been a detour, but thanks to their tale of The Walrus and the Carpenter, it becomes more than a detour – it is one of the darkest and most heartbreaking scenes ever to come from Disney because of the poor oysters. It gave me nightmare as a child and it is not easy to watch even now. Needless to say, it is one of the most underrated moments from the studio.
The sequence with Bill the Lizard and the flowers are both interesting, but after those scenes comes Caterpillar in what is one of the highlights of the film. It is, as always, visually stunning and hallucinatory. And the character of Caterpillar is the first truly great and memorable character that really gives Alice a headache, but also moves the plot forward with his mushroom advice. The next scene introduces us with the next great character – The Cheshire Cat. He is definitely the best part of the movie and by far the best character. He has a bunch of memorable lines, interesting animation design, great voice work and is quite funny.
The part with Mad Hatter is one of the best and most memorable parts in the movie thanks to superb the Unbirthday Song which is the finest song in the film, excellent character of Mad Hatter and terrific dialogue exchange which was wonderfully taken from the book. The next part where Alice gets lost in the woods is the added scene not present in the book and it was a superb move because it slows the pace which was much needed and gives some character development for the protagonist.
The final part of the film is of course The Queen of Hearts. She is also underrated and, while not one of the best, she is one of the better villains and her catchphrase “Off with her head!” is easily recognizable. The problem with this part is that the trial is a bit extended, but the strength is the villain and the ending where it all collapses and Alice wakes up – it is again done with visual splendor and fast pace.
The animation, while not quite refined like ‘Snow White’s and ‘Pinochio’s, is nevertheless very interesting and original. It achieves the whimsical and hallucinatory feel which perfectly accompanies what goes on the screen and is a perfect way to film this particular book. It is, along with ‘Fantasia’, the weirdest animation for Disney and it may be the reason why it flopped when first released. But it is a joy to watch and as world building goes, it is one of the very best from the studio – it transports you to the world wonderfully with great animation and attention to detail and is a big reason why this film works so well.
The soundtrack of the film is a curious one in that it has both the shortest and longest songs meaning that the songs are one of the shortest in the Disney canon, but there are however fifteen of them which definitely has to be the largest number of songs ever for Disney. Because there are so many songs, many are too short and not particularly memorable to mention. But there are also a couple of truly superb songs, the best are The Unbirthday Song and Painting the Roses Red, both are very good, catchy and whimsical, but also unfortunately very underrated. In a World of My Own is forgettable, but Alice in Wonderland and I’m Late are solid, All in the Golden Afternoon is somehow different in its melody from the other songs and it is enjoyable while A-E-I-O-U is a visual treat.
The story is adapted in a wonderful way. Some boring characters from the book such as The Duchess are removed and the scene in the woods is added which is a great plot point to add to slow things down. For all these reasons and because it visually is a wonder and because it is very faithful, it is undoubtedly the best adaptation ever of this particular book.
There are many small problems in this film. The character development is not particularly good and not all characters are memorable, but it is somehow understandable because there are so many of them. There are also too many songs, many of which are forgettable, and the pacing is problematic – it is too fast-paced and frenetic at times.
In the end, it may have some pacing problems and there are too many songs, but Alice in Wonderland also has many memorable characters, excellent quotes, great world-building and it is a visual treat from start to finish, the best adaptation of the novel so far and one of the very best and most underrated Disney films ever.