Synopsis: Join Alice as she chases the White Rabbit and journeys into a topsy-turvy world that gets “curiouser and curiouser” as her fantastical adventures unfold. Meet the Mad Hatter, March Hare, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts and more unforgettable characters, all set against a backdrop of awe-inspiring splendor.
I have never read Lewis Carroll’s original novel, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Truth be told, I have absolutely no idea how good an adaptation this Walt Disney film is.
Even though I am of the mind that the Disney magic was scattered to the four winds like impotent pixie dust long ago, I am still filled with a certain amount of glee when I think of classics like ‘101 Dalmatians’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Cinderella’, ‘Fantasia’, ‘Lady and the Tramp’, ‘Peter Pan’, ‘Pinocchio’ and ‘The Jungle Book’.
Is it because I first saw those films as a kid and they reawaken certain feelings and memories now? It’s possible. And yet, there are a few that I saw as a kid that don’t remotely carry the same weight, such as ‘Bambi’, ‘Dumbo’, ‘Robin Hood’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and ‘The Aristocats’. So perhaps it’s more than nostalgia.
In ‘Alice’s case, the reason it’s become one my favourites as an adult (as well as the fantastic ‘Fantasia’) is because I can revel in the completely absurd side of it. As a total teetotaler, I thoroughly enjoy the mind-boggling, completely nonsensical side of this cinematic treat because it’s as close to a psychedelic experience as I’ll ever get.
Not unlike a Dali-esque animated creation, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is quite the surrealist piece. In fact, the story doesn’t make any sense, if you actually think about it: the moment that Alice tumbles into the rabbit hole, we are on a journey that constantly morphs, carrying Alice along out of pure momentum. I can’t think of another piece where the course of events is mostly shaped by the location, not the protagonist – but that’s what goes on here.
It doesn’t matter in any way, though, because the moment that the picture begins to go a little mad, one’s sense of disbelief is checked at the door; viewers immediately understands that it’s going to be impossible to judge it by conventional rules. Thus, the rest of time, they can just sit back and enjoy Alice’s strange new adventures and stop worrying about who/what/where/when/why and how. And that is rather freeing, I must say.
There are so many incredibly absurd moments in ‘Alice in Wonderland’, as much in the action as in the dialogue, that it’s impossible not to laugh. Just watching Alice bobbing around in the sea, surrounded by nutty creatures puts a smile on my face. And by the time we get to the tea party, I’ve usually been driven delirious with awe and wonder. By then, nothing makes me chuckle more than watching the completely loony Mad Hatter eating his saucer and relishing every bite.
In some ways, it makes me feel like a child again – something that very few other works can do for me. When one is extremely young, so many things are inexplicable to us, seeming larger than life and magical, so we take them at face value instead of dissecting them and evaluating their authenticity. As we understand things more and have more points of reference it’s very difficult to avoid comparing and analyzing what we experience.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ takes care of that problem by throwing all logic out the window, twisting reality into a sugar-coated acid trip. Back then, the only way this effect was possible was with animation; Hollywood simply didn’t have the technical know-how or the technology to manage all that takes place in this motion picture. Walt Disney was absolutely right in tackling Carroll’s oeuvre in this fashion, even if the public or the critics didn’t get it then.
It helps that ‘Alice’ is so demented that anything goes. Thus, it’s easier for me to accept absurd things like musical numbers (which, let’s face it, were very popular at the time. It was never actually meant as a convention of animated features – it was strictly a sign of the times). I loathe musicals like none other (HATE them… kill, kill… ). But the songs are so well incorporated into the craziness that it doesn’t feel like the picture stops to sing us some bloody tunes – it’s all one big show-stopping extravaganza. It actual works.
The animation is remarkably fresh even today, which is surprising given that it’s almost 60 years old. Yes, it’s hand-drawn animation. Yes, the character designs are dated in some cases. But the film holds up to today’s animation due to all the layers of talent in it – even the backgrounds were detailed enough to fill the picture quite well. And the three-dimensional technique that Walt Disney had developed suitably gives the picture a more life-like quality.
But it’s probably helped by his vision, because I found that even the credits were perfectly-suited for the film. By giving us still images that recall pictures books, Disney gave us the impression of being told a story (albeit in animated form) right from the onset. This prepared us for the fantastical aspects of ‘Alice’ and made it easier for us to immerse ourselves in what would veritably defy the boundaries of imagination for the next 70 minutes.
Evidently, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is easier to digest by being a breezy film. In being as short as it is, it never gets tiresome, even though it races at the speed of a late white rabbit. Had it been even 15 minutes longer, however, it might have been too much. But, as it is, it’s just the right length.
I simply can’t recommend this film enough. It’s fun for kids, kids at heart and adults alike. There’s a little bit for everyone, I think (or would like to believe ). It’s a complete feast for the senses, it’s a mind-bender, it’s a fun-filled adventure in a fantasy world that can’t be found anywhere else. It’s, without a doubt, a major achievement in animated cinema and it’s a must-see.