Alice in Wonderland (1951): 60th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Clyde Geronimi et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 75 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: February 1, 2011
Review Date: January 21, 2011
If Fantasia represented Walt Disney’s biggest disappointment in terms of audience acceptance and box-office response, his 1951 version of Alice in Wonderland couldn’t be far behind. Coming after the twin 1950 triumphs of Cinderella and Treasure Island, Disney must have been devastated by the lackluster critical response and tepid box-office results of Alice (which didn’t even rank among the top twenty films in grosses for 1951) especially since it was a project he had been nurturing for almost twenty years. Unlike most of his other animated classics, Disney permitted Alice to be shown on his weekly television show (first in 1954) and didn’t reissue it to theaters until 1974 where it met with much greater success. While the movie still today doesn’t seem to have the classic status afforded to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Bambi, it plays beautifully and contains such dazzling animation and such outrageous, unbridled imagination that it’s virtually in a class by itself in the Disney canon. The world would be a far poorer place if Alice in Wonderland wasn’t a part of it.
A daydreamer of uncommon imagination, Alice (Kathryn Beaumont) chases a white rabbit (Bill Thompson) down a hole and drops into a curious place where she meets a succession of wonderfully weird and imminently eccentric creatures: twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee (J. Pat O’Malley), a garden of talking flowers (among them, Doris Lloyd, Queenie Leonard), a hookah-smoking Caterpillar (Richard Haydn), the continually smiling Cheshire Cat (Sterling Holloway), the equally insane Mad Hatter (Ed Wynn) and March Hare (Jerry Colonna), and the agitated Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton) with a fondness for lopping off heads. While Alice enjoys the unique world of wonderland for a brief time, she quickly longs for a more rational and sane place called home but has no idea how to get back to it.
The Cheshire Cat informs Alice early in their meeting that “Everyone’s a little mad here,” and that might well have been the problem that the public had with the movie: with insanity at every turn and Alice thwarted constantly from making any headway in understanding what’s happening around her, the cockeyed mood and constant mayhem may have just been too relentless for audiences of the day. Today’s viewing public seems much more open to the wacky and bizarre and has no trouble with the kind of episodic story which Alice in Wonderland definitely sported. Without a through narrative line to hook the audience, they are blasted into a new sequence of events every few minutes, bombarded from all sides with every manner of fantastic and peculiar surreal imagery and apart from Alice, not allowed to form attachments with any of a large cast of characters. For some, the movie lacks the warmth and depth of feeling that could be found so prominently in Disney classics like Dumbo or Pinocchio, and that’s possibly the reason it didn't catch on originally. Still, for sheer fun and as a study in dreamlike (some might say nightmarish) fiction, Alice in Wonderland is in a class by itself.
And the movie’s famous set pieces resound in one’s memories decades after first experiencing them: the Caterpillar’s smoky words wittily aimed at Alice and possessing a life of their own, the crazy tea party that contains the movie’s most bubbly number “The Unbirthday Song,” the hypnotic Cheshire Cat fading in and out as the spirit moves him, the eye-popping design of the entire film that reaches its zenith in the Queen of Hearts sequence with its white roses dripping with blood red paint and a croquet match unlike no other. The wonderful song score for the movie (the most songs ever contained in a Disney animated feature) didn’t produce any hits in its initial release, but in retrospect, it’s filled with lovely ballads: the title song, “Very Good Advice,” “In a World of My Own,” and “All in the Golden Afternoon” along with jauntier items like “T’was Brillig,” “I'm Late,” “Painting the Roses Red,” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” The voice cast is also spectacular with such rich and character-filled actors as Sterling Holloway, Richard Haydn, Bill Thompson, Verna Felton, Ed Wynn, and Jerry Colonna. And while not possessing the most lustrous singing voice in films, Kathryn Beaumont is a spirited and superlative Alice, the one voice of reason amid the acres of contiguous insanity.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is faithfully reproduced in 1080p using the AVC codec. Color is dazzlingly brilliant throughout this kaleidoscopic feature with possibly the most vivid reds you will ever see in any movie. Lines are solid, and there is no banding or any other type of artifact to spoil the pristine picture quality presented here. The film has been divided into 27 chapters.
The disc offers both a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 enhanced theater mix as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix of the original soundtrack. The lossy mono mix sounds a trifle shallow and lacking in much if any bass, but purists will no doubt be glad to have it represented here even if it’s not in a lossless format. The DTS-MA HD 5.1 mix is surprisingly effective with Oliver Wallace’s Oscar-nominated score filtered through the fronts and wrapping into the rears with excellent presence (sound effects, however, have not been removed from the center channel). While the dialogue track in the center channel is occasionally thin, it’s well recorded for the most part and not at all affected by the passage of decades with no problems evident with hiss or any other age-related artifacts.
“Through the Keyhole: A Companion’s Guide to Wonderland” is an excellently (if somewhat overcrowded) produced interactive commentary mode which runs the film in a succession of PiP windows while commentators on the life of Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll, the Disney studio, and the film itself give insightful details about all of these entities. This mode is introduced by star Kathryn Beaumont.
DisneyView once again provides art panels to cover the black pillarbox bars on the sides of the image should the viewer decide to use them.
Painting the Roses Red game is a family participation game in which players attempt to paint white roses on a tree with red paint with the fewest possible moves. You accrue points along the way with the largest point-getter winning.
A 1959 introduction to a TV broadcast of the film features Walt Disney’s comments leading into the movie’s first scene. It’s in 1080p and his comments are identical to a later 1964 introduction to a televised edition of the movie also presented elsewhere on this disc.
“Alice and the Doorknob” is the live action reference footage Kathryn Beaumont shot for Disney animators. The present-day Kathryn introduces the 1 ¼-minute clip. It’s in 1080p. The viewer may also turn on Beaumont commentary for the brief snippet.
Kathryn Beaumont also introduces a pencil test for Alice shrinking which runs for 1 minute in 1080p.
“Reflections on Alice” begins the porting section of featurettes from the previous release of the movie on DVD. This runs in 480p for 13 ½ minutes and features Disney artists and Kathryn Beaumont reminiscing about the production of the movie.
“Operation Wonderland” is a vintage featurette where James Melton visits Walt at the studio and is introduced to Alice in Wonderland via live action reference shooting, rough animation, and the finished product (shown in black and white). It runs 11 minutes but is now presented in 1080p.
“I’m Odd” is a song originally written for the Cheshire Cat and presented here with an introduction by Kathryn Beaumont. This runs 4 minutes in 480i.
“Through the Mirror” is the 1936 Mickey Mouse cartoon based on the Carroll book and now presented in 1080p (looking beautiful) running 8 ¾ minutes.
“One Hour in Wonderland” is a 1950 Christmas special sponsored by Coca-Cola and featuring Edger Bergen and his dummies, Kathryn Beaumont, and Bobby Driscoll presenting some plum clips from Disney shorts and musical moments from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Song of the South, and Alice in Wonderland’s tea party sequence. It runs 59 ½ minutes in 480i.
“Alice’s Wonderland” is one of Disney’s silent Alice comedies which runs 8 minutes in 480i.
The original theatrical trailers from 1951 (2 minutes) and 1974 (1 ¾ minutes) are presented in 480i.
Walt Disney’s introductions to the TV presentations of Alice in Wonderland are presented as filmed in 1954 and 1964. Both 480i clips run 1 ¼ minutes.
A 1951 edition of The Fred Waring Show presents selections from the song score of the movie as sung by his own chorus as well as guest stars Kathryn Beaumont and Sterling Holloway. It runs 31 minutes.
Four entries of deleted materials all presented in 480i are available for selection:
- A storyboard sequence for “Pig and Pepper” runs 3 ¼ minutes.
- “From Wonderland to Neverland” features the song “Beyond the Laughing Sky” written for Alice but later incorporated into Peter Pan as “The Second Star to the Right,” It’s introduced by Kathryn Beaumont for 6 ¾ minutes.
- A storyboard sequence for “Alice Daydreams in the Park” runs 2 minutes.
- Song demos for six deleted tunes may be chosen. They are “Beward the Jabberwock,” “Everyone Has a Useness,” “So They Say,” “Beautiful Soup,” “Dream Caravan,” and “If You’ll Believe in Me.”
The second disc in the set if the DVD copy of the film.
The disc offers 1080p trailers for Bambi, Winnie the Pooh, Tangled, The Incredibles, Spooky Buddies, and Disney 3D Blu-ray releases.
4.5/5 (not an average)
Disney may not consider Alice in Wonderland one of its premiere titles, but I certainly do: a rollicking, tuneful, and splendid animated rendition of the Lewis Carroll classic with the Blu-ray disc offering a marvelous collection of bonus material that extends the richness and brilliance contained in this very special movie. Highly recommended!