No, I am not reviewing the fanfiction-version by Johnny Depp fanboy/goth Tim Burton this time. I am reviewing the real deal: Disney‘s animated 1951 musical classic Alice in Wonderland – one of the most fun and clever films I’ve had the pleasure of growing up with.
This film takes me back many years. My mother had just taped some animated movie off the TV; she popped the tape into the VCR for me and let me watch a Walt Disney film like none I had ever seen, mostly becuase it was so inventively bizarre and twisted but also because it was the first film I saw entirely in English. I’ve loved it since I first experienced it.
Alice in Wonderland, based on the undisputed Lewis Caroll story, of course, opens by introducing us to Alice (Kathryn Beaumont), a little girl who is tired of reading books and doing boring things; she sings of going to a world of her won, where the flowers speak and rabbits wear tidy suits. When the song is over, she spots a White Rabbit (voiced by Bill Thompson) in a tidy suit; the rabbit is in a great hurry because he is late to something. Alice follows her and ends up falling into what seems like a bottomless pit. She encounters floating pianos, books and rocking chairs on her way down to Wonderland.
What happens next, as most of us presumably know already, is that young Alice encounters all sorts of srange and curious characters and creatures; the talking Doorknob (Joseph Kearns) of a door that is first to small and then to large and too locked for her to use, Mr. Dodo (also voiced by Thompson) who has invented a special dance that gets wet people dry, two odd twins Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (both voiced by J. Pat O’Malley) who sing a bizarre song of a walrus and a carpenter who kidnap innocent baby oysters and devour them, a group of singing flowers, a hookah-smoking Caterpillar (Richard Haydn), the sometimes friendly, sometimes hostile Chesire Cat (voiced by none other than Sterling Holloway), The Mad Hatter (Ed Wynn) and The March Hare (Jerry Colonna) and their completely mad tea party and of course, the ruthless and bad-tempered Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton)… and the King (Dink Trout).
My favourite scenes are the tea party with the Mad Hatter and March Hare and the scene where Alice encounters the Caterpillar. I love also the scene with the Walrus and the Carpenter, which was actually from Through The Looking Glass, the second Alice book, as opposed to the Alice in Wonderland book. The film is a nice combination of the two.
This isn’t the kind of film you’d expect from Disney; it is usually some sort of fairy tale with a love story or, in recent years, some poorly written sitcom starring untalented tweens. This one’s neither. This one is just crazy, twisted, hysterical and it enjoys every moment of it; as I do. I hear there used to be a rumour going that the filmmakers were high when they were making the movie. Even if that’s true, the movie they created is one of the most enjoyable Disney movies I have ever seen, as well as my personal favourite.
The character of Alice is well done and likable; as we follow her through these peculiar adventures, we feel sympathy for her and ponder about the same things she ponders about. She reminds me of an aquainted, who also wishes to take a break from the boring real world and go some place odd; some place that plays like a wondrous dreamland.
Alice in Wonderland (the animated one from 1951!) is indeed a wonderful movie. I’ve seen it many times by now, and I am guessing I will see it many times more, for I love it even more intensely today than when I was a young boy who could not fully understand everything that was going on. Memorable songs, skillfully animated, beautifully drawn, wonderfully written, lovably surreal and fantastically insane. It is quite simply one of the best.
I am sometimes asked why I so hated Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland if I am such a Johnny Depp-fan. I am indeed; I love it when he appears in movies. I love it much less when people write laughable fan fiction with him in it. Now you answer a question from me: why is a raven like a writing desk?