Alice in Wonderland. USA 1951, 75 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll
Plot summary: To elude her dull lessons, Alice escapes into the nonsensical world of Wonderland, where cats wear stripes and flowers can sing.
Review: Every kid knows her. Alice, the English girl who is bored stiff by her daily lessons and dreams of a world different from her rule-filled own. As a child, I envied her for her adventures in Wonderland, a world so entertaining and scary all at once. Like her, I escaped boredom in my mind and created a world too colorful to make sense to adults. Had I spotted a White Rabbit with a pocket watch, I would have gladly followed him. But like Peter Pan, Mr. Rabbit never came and I was stuck with the poetic words of Lewis Carroll and a Disney adaptation I only recently learned to appreciate for its imperfection.
When Alice enters Wonderland, she meets a bunch of quirky characters: Mad Hatter and March Hare, a smoking Caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts. Their customs are peculiar and differ from what the girl has learned to be conventional. They are interesting but also capricious, their language, attitude and behavior as unpredictable as the visibility of the Cheshire Cat. What begins as a great adventure soon turns into a series of unpleasant encounters. Based on Lewis Carroll’s famous books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Disney’s heroine stumbles from one oddity to the next until finally finding her way home again.
Despite their narrative complexity, Walt Disney was interested in adapting Carroll’s stories early on, but had to overcome several hurdles until he was able to begin with the production. Rewritten and re-imagined several times, the film finally premiered on July 26, 1951 and met with a lukewarm response. Although not slated by critics at the time, the animated feature did not attract a loyal audience. Cut down to fit into 75 short minutes, Disney’s version was incomplete and deemed Americanized by fans of the original stories. Despite its imaginative artwork and catchy tunes, the film was not popular until its re-release in 1974, when a new generation appreciated Alice in Wonderland for its eccentric (or arguably psychedelic) content.
Now considered a children’s classic, Carroll’s books and Disney’s adaptation have influenced and shaped the imagination and childhood of many kids around the world. Although remade many times, Alice is still a beautiful blond girl in a lot of hearts and minds. Her world–both fantastic and real–stands for a time lost to us all when nothing compared to the power of imagination, when movies still made a difference in our lives and dreams were more than just the sum of our daily actions. Alice is a symbol of innocence, creativity and curiosity. A carefree child who, not unlike Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, is entangled in a mélange of fantastic tales and adult rules she has learned to escape at her own discretion.
Melanie Simone is a writer with a degree in American Studies and English. On Talking Classics, she savors her love for vintage Hollywood. For more on cinematic depictions of Alice and her Wonderland friends over the years, click here.