Senior HTF Member
- Feb 24, 1999
in WonderlandStudio:DisneyYear:1951Film Length:75 minutesAspect Ratio:4x3 encoded 1.33:1 (OAR)Audio:5.1 DD English and original mono, 2.0 DD French & SpanishExtras:Disc 1: “Virtual Wonderland Party” game, “Unbirthday” & “All in the Golden Afternoon” sing-along, “Adventures in Wonderland” set-top game, Newly discovered “I’m Odd” cat song (newly recorded), “Through the Mirror” Micky Mouse Animated cartoon.
Disc 2: One Hour in Wonderland, An Alice Comedy, Alice’s Wonderland, Original Trailers, Walt Disney TV Introductions (1954, 1964), Operation Wonderland, The Fred Waring Show, Deleted Materials (From Wonderland to Neverland, Deleted Storyboard Concepts-Alice Daydreams in the Park, Song Demos), Art Galeries.ReleaseDate:January 27, 2004
Following Disney’s early animated feature-film successes such as Snow White, Bambi, and Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland represents another marvelous gem of artistry and craft. Curiously (you’ll hear that word a lot from Alice), despite the replete arsenal of quality items like gorgeous hand-painted visuals, classic Disney animation style, and top-production attention, Alice in Wonderland does not quite materialize as the classic masterpiece it purports to be. Technically, it stands firmly along side many other classic Disney animated features; its weakness as a film is owing more to the cumbersome, undirected flow of the very story itself.
Lewis Carroll’s book may work very well for a bedtime read where the almost skit-like nature of the story provides very neat breaking points for tucking in the youngsters (blithely oblivious to the political and social commentary slyly sketched out in the world of nonsense). But when those sequences are strung together into a continuous stream for 75 minutes (which only contains a portion of the actual events in the book), the result is that of a somewhat lumbering plot that seems to struggle to keep our attention as it rambles and drifts without really giving us the sensation that we’ve moved from where we began. By contrast, The Wizard of Oz is a film that does precisely the same thing but succeeds in taking us on an emotional journey as it parades us through a series of episodes and thereby provides us with the sensation that we are getting somewhere despite the uncertainty of the destination. I think that perhaps if Alice were able to elicit an emotional investment from us, that this sense of “journey” (my word) would have been better accomplished. This might have been easier to do could our heroine Alice been able to carry a tune…
Does this mean that I don’t like Alice in Wonderland or that I don’t consider it one of the Disney classics? Not at all. I do appreciate this film very much for what it is…an exploration into the dream world of imagination as illustrated by Carroll’s tale. I can feel that way about Disney’s Alice without considering it to be successful as an art of entertainment (which is I think what the Disney creators intended it to be) - but I wouldn’t expect most children to feel the same way about it as I do. I think you’ll find that Alice in Wonderland will have difficulty keeping the attention of most children (and quite a few adults) but that’s not to say that it isn’t worth a try!
I’ll gamble that many of you Disney animation fans have not seen Alice in Wonderland before and so I just want your expectations about this story to be clear going in so you’re not disappointed. I think that one might experience Alice in Wonderland as a much better film if rather than expecting an entertaining story ripe with emotion (Bambi, Cinderella, etc.) one resigns to appreciate this film on a more avant-garde level, similar to the same mindset you’d use to gauge Fantasia. Besides, you’ve just sifted through the pontifications of the ever-opinionated DaViD Boulet and who knows *what* good can come of that!? So just get your Alice in Wonderland DVD and then tell us what *you* think.
Ernest Rister had posted in another thread an excellent essay regarding the history surrounding Disney Film studios and Alice in Wonderland. He has given me permission to incorporate his comments here into my review and I'm privileged to be able to share them with you:
Walt Disney's ALICE IN WONDERLAND: A Brief History
For American Animation buffs, it is no surprise that Walt Disney would one day make an animated feature based on Alice in Wonderland. The real surprise is that it took so long.
The history of Walt Disney's association with Lewis Carroll's "Alice" books (Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass) stretches all the way back to 1923, when Disney was still a twenty-two year old filmmaker trying to make a name for himself in Kansas City. When his first series of short cartoons, the Newman Laugh-O-Grams, failed to recoup production costs, the struggling young producer tried to create other short films hoping that one of them would point the way forward. The last of these Kansas City works was called "Alice's Wonderland", and it featured a live-action girl (Virginia Davis) interacting with cartoon characters. While charming, the short failed to receive much notice, and so Walt Disney made the hard decision to abandon producing animated films, and he left Kansas City to become a live-action film director in Hollywood.
After months of trying to find work in live-action, and failing, Walt Disney partnered with his older brother Roy to create the Disney Brothers Studio, and they revived the idea of producing animated shorts. The independent distributor M. J. Winkler screened Walt's 1923 Alice short and found it promising, and so Winkler agreed to distribute a series of "Alice Comedies" for the Disney brothers. Jubilant, Walt contacted his former Kansas City colleagues and brought them to Hollywood to work on the new series (a group that today reads like a who's who of American animation legends, including Ub Iwerks, Rudolph Ising, Isadore "Friz" Freleng, and Hugh Harman).
And so, from 1924 to 1926, the Disney Brothers Studio produced over fifty short Alice Comedies. The success of this silent film series established Disney as a film producer, and while many credit the invention of Mickey Mouse as the first great Disney success, without the Alice Comedies, it is doubtful that there ever would have been a "Steamboat Willie" in the first place.
Much has been written about Disney's longtime affection for Mickey Mouse, but what many do not know is that Walt Disney also had a long-standing affection for Alice in Wonderland. As soon as he began discussing making feature-length films, he returned repeatedly to the idea of making a feature-length version of Alice, but for various reasons, these attempts were never realized.
Prior to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney planned on making Alice in Wonderland his first feature-length film, not Snow White. Like the early Alice Comedies, he planned on using a combination of live-action and animation for the "wonderland" sequences, and in early 1933, a Technicolor screen test was shot with Mary Pickford as Alice. This first attempt by Disney at producing an Alice feature was eventually tabled when Paramount released a live-action version of Alice in Wonderland in 1933, with a script by Citizen Kane scribe Joseph Mankiewicz and an all-star cast that included Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty.
Disney did not abandon the idea of making an Alice feature. After the enormous success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs -- as Leonard Maltin writes in his history of Walt Disney's film career, The Disney Films, Walt Disney officially recorded the title "Alice in Wonderland" with the MPAA in 1938. As preparatory work began on this possible Alice feature, the economic devastation of the Second World War as well as the demands of the productions of Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi pushed the "Alice" project aside.
After the war, in 1945, Disney proposed a live-action/animated version of Alice in Wonderland that would star Ginger Rogers and would utilize the techniques seen in Disney's Three Caballeros. This, too, fell through, and in 1946, work began on an all-animated version of Alice in Wonderland that would feature art direction heavily based on the famous illustrations of Sir John Tenniel. This version was storyboarded, but was ultimately rejected by Walt, as was yet another proposed live-action/animated version of Alice that would star Luanna Patten (seen in Disney's Song of the South and So Dear to my Heart).
In the late 40's, work resumed on an all-animated Alice with a focus on comedy, music and spectacle as opposed to rigid fidelity to the books, and finally, in 1951, Walt Disney released a feature-length version of Alice in Wonderland to theaters, eighteen years after first discussing ideas for the project and almost thirty years after making his first Alice Comedy.
Disney's final version of Alice in Wonderland followed in the traditions of his feature films like Fantasia and Bambi and The Three Caballeros in that Walt Disney intended for the visuals and the music to be the chief source of entertainment, as opposed to a tightly-constructed narrative like Snow White or Cinderella. Indeed, Lewis Carroll's Alice books have no real plot to speak of, and because of the literary complexity of Carroll's work, they are essentially unfilmmable. Instead of trying to produce an animated "staged reading" of Carroll's books, Disney chose to focus on their whimsy and fantasy, using Carroll's prose as a beginning, not as an end unto itself.
Another bold choice was decided upon for the look of the film. Rather than faithfully reproducing the famous illustrations of Sir John Tenniel, a more streamlined and less complicated approach was used for the design of the main characters. Background artist Mary Blair took a Modernist approach to her design of Wonderland, creating a world that was recognizable, and yet was decidedly "unreal". Indeed, Blair's bold use of color is one of the films most notable features.
Finally, in an effort to retain some of Carroll's imaginative verses and poems, Disney commissioned top songwriters to compose songs built around them for use in the film. A record number of potential songs were written for the film, based on Carroll's verses, and many of them found a way into the film, if only for a few brief moments. "I'm Late" remains one of the more famous Disney songs, and yet the entire number is less than a minute long. Alice in Wonderland would boast the greatest number of songs included in any Disney film, but because some of them last for mere seconds (like "How Do You Do and Shake Hands", "A, E, I, O, U", "We'll Smoke the Monster Out", "Twas Brillig", "The Caucus Race", and others), this fact is frequently overlooked.
All of these creative decisions were met with great criticism from fans of Lewis Carroll, as well as from British film and literary critics who accused Disney of "Americanizing" a great work of English literature.
Disney was not surprised by the critical reception to Alice in Wonderland - his version of Alice was intended for large family audiences, not literary critics - but despite all the long years of thought and effort, the film met with a lukewarm response at the box office and was a sharp disappointment in its initial release. Though not an outright disaster, the film was never re-released theatrically in Walt Disney's lifetime, airing instead every so often on network television (in fact, Disney's Alice in Wonderland aired as the 2nd episode of Walt Disney's "Disneyland" TV series on ABC in 1954).
Walt surmised that the film failed because Alice lacked "heart" and was a difficult character for audiences to get behind and root for. In The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin relates how animator Ward Kimball felt the film failed because, "it suffered from too many cooks - directors. Here was a case of five directors each trying to top the other guy and make his sequence the biggest and craziest in the show. This had a self-canceling effect on the final product."
Almost two decades later, after the North American success of George Duning's animated feature Yellow Submarine, Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland suddenly found itself in vogue with the times. In fact, because of Mary Blair's art direction and the long-standing association of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland with the drug culture, the feature was re-discovered as something of a "head film" (along with Fantasia and The Three Caballeros). The Disney company resisted this association, and even withdrew prints of the film from universities, but then, in 1974, the Disney company gave Alice in Wonderland its first theatrical re-release ever, and the company even promoted it as a film in tune with the "psychedelic" times.
This re-release was successful enough to warrant a subsequent re-release a few years later, where it played on a double feature with the live-action Disney film, Amy.
Still, Alice in Wonderland was never a blockbuster on the order of the other established Disney animated classics, and so, with the advent of the home video market in the early 80's, the Disney company chose to make Alice in Wonderland one of the first titles available for the rental market on Beta, VHS, and Videodisc, and the film has been a home video staple ever since.
While it has not been critically re-evaluated as a visionary "ahead-of-its-time" masterwork on the order of a Fantasia, the reputation of Alice has improved substantially over the last thirty years. Modern appreciation for the film stems from the overall growth in the appreciation of animation in general, and respect for the film's imaginative visuals have come to somewhat outweigh the criticisms over the film's episodic storyline.
Disney's Alice in Wonderland will probably never rank among the most popular of the Disney animated features, but no longer is it seen as a failure, either. As the tradition of hand-drawn Disney animated features draws to a close in the wake of the CGI era, Alice in Wonderland will remain a film that fans of animation will deservedly admire for many years to come.
-- Ernest Rister, for IGN.com 1/9/04
Packaging & Presentation…
In the same manner as Sleeping Beauty, Alice comes to you as a double-disc set fitting into a standard-sized keepsake case with a gorgeous slip-off outer sleeve that has a fold-out cover held closed by a small Velcro tab. Inside you’ll find an insert with chapter stops and…thankfully…a listing of all the DVD special features on disc 1 & 2 (THANK YOU Disney!). This makes finding that one special feature you’re trying to locate much more simple and you don’t have to waste time loading and unloading the wrong disc into your DVD players disc tray.
Cards for a set-top game are also found inside the DVD case (I haven’t test-driven this game so I can’t offer any comments as of yet). And consistent with past surprises from the creative and fun-loving marketing folks (something that you won't see with your edition), this DVD screener arrived with two cookies that have scanned-on pictures from the movie (these just *can’t* be the same marketing folks responsible for atrocities like the P/S only Muppets Treasure Island…these people are just waaaay too cool). I would imagine that eating one makes me grow smaller and eating the other makes me grow larger. If I can round up a digital camera I’ll photograph the cookies before they are devoured….
You could almost do a cut/paste from my Sleeping Beauty DVD review for this section.
Stunning. Spectacular. Breathtaking. The image of this DVD is a work-of-art to behold. As RAH has posted in another thread, the image has been “cleaned” from all dust and photographic artifacts. Yes, the image on this DVD is not a historical document of the image presentation one would have seen with an original theatrical-release print. But in its own and different way, the image on this DVD is just as deserving of praise for the beautiful work of art that it reveals to us.
Do not fear…this does not mean that the image has been “filtered” to remove all traces of hand-imparted brushstrokes and detail. On the contrary, the result of all this effort is an image that looks as if you’re staring right at the hand-painted backgrounds without any “film” in the way…as if the actual hand-painted background images and cells have been digitally scanned off their 1951 drawing board and stored here for you to view on DVD. It’s astonishing. You’ll find yourself staring into backgrounds discovering details and textures that had remained forever hidden on previous video and (dare I say) film-print incarnations. An analogy might be taking an old Beetles album and going back to the vault and finding the original session recordings and remixing in ultra-high-resolution digital from the source stems using custom-calibrated tube electronics identical to those used to create the recordings. The new mix does not sound like the original master tape (which had incurred several generations of analog-tape noise and equipment-signature artifacts), no one would deny. But at the same time the new mix communicates a depth of subtlety and the sensation that you’re hearing something much closer to the live-mic-feed of the vocalists…which makes you feel as though you’re looking at something much closer to the “soul” of the music. In the case of Alice, you can’t help but feel that the original animators and creative artists who brought this tale to life would feel the same way looking at the absolutely gorgeous image on this DVD.
Colors seem almost infinite in the range of hues they present. You’re not in Kansas anymore
BAD. Seeming to be as commonplace as the THX logo is these days, there is a bit of edge enhancement on this disc (about the same as what is on Sleeping Beauty). A very revealing scene is at the very beginning where Alice climbs into the tree and her kitten is sitting in her lap. As the “camera” zooms in on the kitten just look at the halo following the contour of Alice’s dress. Really Disney, you guys are smart and clearly know how to master a DVD. What gives? Why Why Why?
If you’re watching this film from more than 2.5 screen-widths back you’ll likely not see any ringing at all…so rest easy folks. But viewers with large-screen rear of front projection systems who view closer than 2 screen widths will probably not have to try very hard to see what I’m talking about. We can argue all day about how distracting this artifact may or may not be on various types of display systems—but the bottom line is that it should NOT be something that any videophile needs to worry about because it shouldn't be there. Disney, PLEASE make yourself aware of the negatives of this ringing artifact and ensure that it does not appear on your future titles. I will be one sorry reviewer if, when I finally get my long-awaited Cinderella DVD, I’m forced to defocus my image to keep from being distracted by any electronic ringing[/i].
Sorry for coming across like such a sour-pus here. But it may be a loooong time before we get an HD version (or even another SD-DVD version) of these animated classics to enjoy and so we need to ensure that our Standard-definition DVD versions we get *today* look as good as they can so they’ll hold up well on our present and future large-screen HD displays.
I’m better now…
Comparing the new DVD to the previous “Gold Collection” edition:
I imagine many of you have already included the Gold Collection DVD in your video library and are reading this review wondering if the improvement of this new edition is worth the upgrade. Differences are significant and I’ll tell you right up that the upgraded is worth it on merits of picture-quality improvement alone.
The Gold Collection DVD sported an image that was impressive enough for the day and was the result of the restorative work that had been done for the earlier laserdisc SE box set (which I never managed to purchase). Similar to Fantasia, it reveals all of the production artifacts from Disney’s cell-animation techniques such as dust, fluctuations in contrast and film-grain (not making a judgment about those natural artifacts of the film process, just stating a fact). The Gold Collection DVD also has no noticeable edge enhancement (!). While the image of the previous may be good by laserdisc standards, it doesn’t compete with the newer DVD on a variety of levels.
The Gold Collection DVD has colors that appear oversaturated which negates any subtlety of shading and hue. The image also appears overly dark with a black level that tends to swallow much of the shadow detail as dark areas appear just “deep black”. This contrasts sharply with the newer DVD that shows a much smother and more continuous shading from brights to black with a wealth of shadow detail to be seen in between. Also, the older DVD, while surprisingly detailed and sharp, has a layer of slight electronic haze that at times makes the image appear somewhat processed. Despite the abundant digital wizardry that went into mastering the new Alice DVD, the result of the latest effort is an image that is notably void of any such electronic signature. Bottom line…yes, the new DVD really does pack a picture worth upgrading to if Alice is a title you care to own in the finest quality available.
So, shaving off a fraction of a point for some visible ringing from an otherwise PERFECT image that will astound you with its beauty and grace…
Picture: 4.75/ 5
Usually I’m not a fan of 5.1 “remixes” of old mono soundtracks. This is an exception. The 5.1 English track is smooth, natural, and has a rich, 3-dimensional quality that is very comfortable to listen to. The multichannel audio mix does not suffer from an artificial sounding “reverb” like some previous mono-to-stereo efforts that may have scared you in the past. The sense of acoustic space comes across as a natural ambience and is tasteful and effective. Rear channels are seldom active so don’t expect any shock-value 5.1 action. The original mono track is included for purist viewers (thanks Disney) and I imagine that the comparison isn’t really fair given that low-bitrate DD mono tracks rarely sound as good as their PCM counterparts so (implying that the mono DD compressed track on this DVD might already be at a slight disadvantage). However, comparing the mono to the newer 5.1 soundtrack on this disc reveals the mono to sound a tad thinner with a lesser sense of space. Especially on musical numbers, I found the newer 5.1 soundtrack to provide a fuller, richer sonic experience and one that seems to blend more congenially with the vibrancy of the image transfer. My recommendation is to enjoy the new 5.1 track if you don’t have a strong allegiance to the original mono, but I PRAISE Disney for making the original mono mix available for fans.
French and Spanish language tracks are also provided (2.0 DD) and sound listenable, but clearly inferior to the English 5.1 mix.
Very impressive audio fidelity for a film of this era, especially given the manner in which Disney was able to breathe some richness and life into an otherwise flat-sounding mono recording. BRAVO!
Sound: 4/ 5
Whew! Forgive me if I try to make this straight forward to save time:
[*]“Unbirthday Sing Along”. 2.0 DD with follow-the-bouncing-ball style subtitles to help youngsters sing along to this enjoyable tune.
[*]“All in the Golden Afternoon” sing along.
[*]“Virtual Wonderland Party” game.
[*]“Adventures in Wonderland” set-top game. Cards are included in the DVD case.
[*]“I’m Old” Newly discovered Cheshire Cat Song. The audio is newly recorded but it sounds like the actor’s voice from the film. Compliments the rest of the music demo recordings on disc 2 nicely.
[*]“Through the Mirror” Mickey Mouse Animated Short. This is already available on one of the Mickey “Treasures” DVD sets but it’s nice to have it included here. Print shows expected film artifacts such as grain and wear but the image is more-than watchable. One of the Mickey classics and it fits nicely with the overall Alice in Wonderland theme.[/list]
[*]“One Hour in Wonderland”. This is the one that most fans will be thrilled to find. It appears to my novice eyes to contain the entire one-hour television program without any censoring or editing. Yes…Disney historians out there will breath a sigh of relief to know that this includes the Coca-Cola plugs (really is a step back in advertising history here folks) as well as a 10-minute excerpt from Song of the South which includes the entire Zipadeedoodah tune followed by the Briar Rabbit tricks Brother Bear into earning a dollar a minute sequence. Picture quality of the Song of the South is rendered in glorious color—the subtlety in skin tones of Uncle Remus are beautiful. The overall clarity is something like an average-to-good laserdisc and audio clarity for this portion is good as well. Request: reasonable discussion is ok, but let’s not have this entire Alice in Wonderland Review thread disintegrate into a debate about censorship or the fate/destiny of Song of the South.
It’s clear from this and other features on this disc that Disney really was believing…or at least hoping…that Alice in Wonderland would become a sensation with moviegoers in similar fashion to other titles in their growing library of animated feature films. While a young girl in Victorian clothes speaking with the eloquence of British aristocracy is charming for a while…it can start to get on your nerves and I *challenge* you to watch this one-hour-in-wonderland television special and *not* want to slap that girl before it’s through!
[*]“The Fred Waring Show” Historical fans will undoubtedly find more to appreciate in this episode of the Fred Waring show that did contemporary audiences. Walt appears to be trying desperately to promote his new film but honestly watching this program would have kept me *away* from the theater!
[*]“Operation Wonderland” is a “making of” featurette that is contemporary with the 1951 film. A nice historical piece to have archived here.
[*]“The Alice Comedies” is an interesting and very old (1923) film that predates the 1951 animated film. It is a blending of live-action and animation where a young girl, Alice, enters the room where the Disney animators are working and where she discovers some magical surprises. Source material looks its age, but is remarkable interesting to watch. Nice to have!
[*]“Walt Disney’s introductions” refer to two items: Disney’s television 1954 and 1964 introductions for Alice aired on television. Sensitive souls will find it profound to click their DVD remote and see Walt flash forward 10 years in time – as he ages demonstrably in the intervening decade.
[*]“Original Trailers” (you’ve got two).
[*]“Deleted Materials” comprises storyboard concepts, song demos (2.0 DD mono) and a short “From Wonderland to Never Land” snippet.
[*]“Art Galleries” which comprise about 8 screens of about 9 images each. The first 5-6 screens contain sketches and watercolors of the Alice in her nonsense world. The style of the images varies greatly and most don't bear much resemblence to what you see in the final film (in terms of character design and concept) which is curious. The last few screens show snapshots of live-action images of artists working at the Disney studios etc. The menus are nicely rendered and easy to navigate...you can cycle from screen to screen and then highlight a particular image to fill the screen. Once an image is magnified you can also scroll through the images one after the other and when you're finished with that menu's selections you end up back on the menu page. This is nice because you never get too deep into the image that you would tire of trying to navigate your way in/out. [/list]
Another Classic work of Disney animation has arrived on DVD in the manner in which it deserves — gorgeous picture, well-delivered sound, and a wealth of extras make purchasing this Alice in Wonderland Masterpiece Edition a given for all Disney fans. One cannot begin to underestimate the effort and care that Disney staff invest into the process of bringing a Masterworks Edition like this to life. If Disney can bring us Bambi and Cinderella on DVD with the same level of quality that this title has received (minus the minor edge enhancement), Disney fans everywhere will have reason to rejoice.