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Alice in Wonderland (1951)

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Score: 9/10

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 15 min.

Release Date: July 26th, 1951 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Hamilton S. Luske, Wilfred Jackson, Clyde Geronimi Actors: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, Pat O’Malley

I

t’s easily the most famous and definitive theatrical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved novels, with characters that are incredibly memorable and designed more vividly than in any other version, even though it’s animated and only two-dimensional. With Disney’s family-friendly touches, the visuals are enjoyable, the songs are intelligently tongue-twisting, and the events are hilariously nonsensical. Weirdness borders on such a fine line with obnoxiousness, yet “Alice in Wonderland” knows just how to turn utter absurdity into a singing, dancing occasion of scatterbrained fun.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.” Young Alice daydreams of colorful creatures and mind-boggling adventures while her older sister dryly recites a history lesson from a book devoid of illustrations. Just as Alice is pondering aloud about the excitement she could be having, she spies a rabbit with a waistcoat and pocket watch scurrying about as if terribly late for a very important date. When she follows the white critter into a hole, she takes a tumble several miles downward and ends up in a small room with a locked door.

Before she knows it, she’s on a magical and mysterious odyssey in Wonderland, where she’ll grow and shrink in size repeatedly, and meet a humming dodo, the baffling twins Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, singing flowers, bread butterflies, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, the inimitable Cheshire Cat (voiced by Winnie the Pooh’s Sterling Holloway), the tea-obsessed Mad Hatter, an even madder March Hare, a drunken dormouse, waddling duck-like bike horns, birds with shovel beaks, owls with accordion necks, a dog with a broom for a head, walking playing cards, a croquet-loving tyrant called the Queen of Hearts, and many more peculiar beings. By the end of it all, she’ll even stand trial for teasing, tormenting, and otherwise annoying the Queen and inciting the loss of tempers. Sentence first, verdict afterwards. In this unexplainably bizarre land, it’s a good thing everyone is so preoccupied with celebrating their un-birthdays.

“It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change,” observes Alice, one of Disney’s most endearing protagonists, who talks to herself, gives herself counseling, and remains just as imaginative, creative, curious, and odd as the creatures and normally inanimate objects she converses with. She scares easily, but her voyage into the idiotic unknown is never nightmarish. And when she learns a thing or two about following good advice, it’s also not preachy.

What makes the film so ingenious, lighthearted, and riotously silly are the expressive characters that often speak in rhyme; the strange narratives, the best of which is a horrifyingly sad story about a walrus that eats baby oysters with cute, fat-cheeked faces; and the ever-present songs that are catchy, witty, and fit into the story more perfectly than many of Disney’s other animated ventures in which songs were included for the sake of having characters sing. “Most everyone’s mad here,” explains the Cheshire Cat, singling out the abstract beauty of Wonderland. Just about any unnatural, kooky thing works better in the undefined fantasy world, full of great imagery and dialogue that is quirky and illogical without ever being annoying.  And what a grand ending too – it’s a dream, as viewers knew from the start, but it concludes simply, smartly, and without dwelling on anything unnecessarily.

–  Mike Massie

 



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