Alice In wonderland
”Alice in Wonderland” was one of the Disney’s very first ideas for a feature length motion picture. He had acquired the rights for Lewis Carroll’s book in the early thirties and in 1933 he began preparing a feature length film, where live action would be combined with animation, which was to star Mary Pickford as Alice. But when Paramount the same year announced and released their version of the book, Disney dropped the project.
In 1936, David Hall made the Mickey Mouse short “Thru the mirror”, and Disney began considering the project again, but postponed it, as the studio at that time already had two films in production. While Disney in 1938 registered the film with the MPAA, it wasn’t until after the war, in 1945, Disney finally announced that the studio would make “Alice in Wonderland”, now with Ginger Rodgers as Alice. But after seeing “Song of the South” in 1946, Disney replaced Rodgers with his new child star Luana Patten, who played Ginny in “Song of the South”, and also decided to make it an all animation film. For various reasons, Disney later replaced Patten with first Margaret O’Brien, and finally in 1948 to have only 10-year old Kathryn Beaumont play the lead.
“Alice in Wonderland” was at that time Disney’s most expensive production, a budget of $3 million, and his most problematic production. Disney’s major problem was how to translate the books somewhat unconnecting stories, its poems and its charm to the screen. An incredible amount of scenes were story boarded and over thirty songs were written. At one point, the project was so huge, that a joke at the studio suggested the final version would have a lenght of two weeks. Another problem, which Disney in his late years spoke about, was, that Alice, according to him, was a spoiled brat without a heart. Finally, Disney had originally decided to have the animations been drawn in the style of the original illustrations by John Tenniel, but after having seen tests, he decided to drop this idea, partly because it slowed the animationproces down, partly because he feared, that the style wouldn’t be identifiable with a Disney film. As a result, the final film became a series of compromises and simplifications of a few key passages.
The film premiered July 26, 1951 and was butchered by the critics. The “New Yorker” was the harshest, calling it a dreadful mockery of a classic, violence against the style of Tenniel, and that Disney attempted to hide his failure to understand a literary masterpiece with a few shiny tunes more suitable for a flea circus. Even “Life Magazine”, normally Disney strongest supporter, gave it the thumbs down. But also the audience turned their backs to the film, and for the first time ever, Disney chose to shelf a film. It wasn’t seen again until 1954, this time in an edited version on TV, and where other Disney films were re-released every sixth or seventh year, “Alice in Wonderland” was not. It remained shelved.
However in 1968 Disney released the film in a 16mm version rental version. It was subsequently re-discovered by the psychedelic generation and became a huge success because of its surrealism and its connections to the drug culture. As a result, Disney withdrew the rental version, as the studio didn’t appreciated the association. It was finally re-released in 1974, with a psychedelic poster even.
As a film, “Alice in Wonderland” is a Disney classic, but in no way amongst his major films, mainly because Disney attempted to squeeze a classic into a Disney template, where grotesque characters became stereotyped cute Disney figures, where complex passages became simplified by a cute little song, and because the production had so many problems, that the final result became incoherent and very episodic.
While children love it, adults and Disney fans should approach the film as a fantastic fiasco, as Disney’s most ambitious project and has his most flawed film.