It’s amazing what can happen in your imagination, and this week we take a look at the biggest daydreamer of them all as we take a trip with Alice in Wonderland.
It is 1862, and one fine summer day, Alice is sitting on the bank of a river, listening to her sister reading from a history book. Bored, daydreamer Alice tells her cat Dinah that she can live in a magical world called Wonderland. Suddenly, Alice catches sight of a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and holding a pocket watch. He dashes toward a rabbit hole, muttering about being late for a very important date.
Alice decides to follow him and whoops! She tumbles down the rabbit hole and out of sight, though luckily her dress acts as a parachute for her fall. She sees the White Rabbit disappear through a door and tries to follow but she can’t fit. After shrinking down, then growing huge then shrinking down again, Alice eventually makes it through the door, entering into a world quite unlike any other. (Lewis Carroll’s imagination was an odd place, wasn’t it?)
As Alice journeys through Wonderland, she meets several strange creatures including the Dodo, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum, who recite “The Walrus and the Carpenter” to her. She eventually finds the White Rabbit in his house where she is mistaken for his maid and sent to fetch him some gloves. Feeling hungry, Alice eats a cookie and grows gigantic again, getting stuck in the house. The White Rabbit, the Dodo and Bill, the lizard Chimney Sweep all think she is a monster and decide they must burn the house down but Alice manages to escape by eating a carrot and shrinking to the size of an insect.
She meets a garden of talking flowers and a hookah-smoking Caterpillar (allegedly he’s smoking flavoured tobacco but I’m telling you, this guy is stoned), who tells her to eat a mushroom to grow back to her original size. Alice decides to stay small and keep the mushroom for later.
Alice then meets the Cheshire Cat who advises her to visit the Mad Hatter and March Hare. They are incredibly insane, and hold a wild tea party to celebrate Alice’s ‘unbirthday’. The White Rabbit appears but the Mad Hatter throws him out of the party. Fed up with all the nonsense, Alice abandons her pursuit of the White Rabbit and decides to go home. Because it’s her film we have to follow her and we’re not allowed to stay with the Mad Hatter and March Hare.
Alice gets herself lost in Tulgey Wood and starts to cry, but the Cheshire Cat reappears and takes her to a giant hedge maze where the megalomaniac the Queen of Hearts beheads anyone who happens to slightly annoy her. She challenges Alice to the wackiest game of croquet ever, using flamingos and hedgehogs as the equipment.
The Cheshire Cat makes another reappearance and plays a trick on the Queen. Enraged, the Queen accuses Alice of the trick and puts her on trial where she is unfairly judged. Alice eats the mushroom and grows to a gigantic size, and then becomes unafraid to speak her mind to the Queen. However, she shrinks back down quickly and the Queen orders her execution. Alice runs away and is chased by the characters of Wonderland until she finally finds the door. The talking doorknob tells her she is having a dream and she manages to wake herself up. Realising that logic and reason do serve a purpose, Alice then walks home with her sister and Dinah for tea.
Based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with elements from Alice Through The Looking Glass, Alice in Wonderland was actually lauded by the critics upon its release in 1951. However, once the swinging sixties arrived and with it a more liberal point of view for many, Alice in Wonderland was hailed as ahead of its time and has since been regarded not only as one of Disney’s greatest Animated Classics, but also as one of the best film adaptations of Carroll’s novel.
Walt Disney himself wasn’t surprised with the critic’s opinions on Alice, saying he made the film for families to enjoy and not for literary critics, but he was disappointed with its box office performance.
Various drafts of the script took place but Disney was adamant that the scenes kept close to the novel as he felt the humour was in Carroll’s writing. Several scenes were omitted due to pace and timing, including Alice meeting a Jaberwocky in Tulgey Wood, before he is revealed as a comic looking dragon-like character with bells and whistles on his head. A song was even written for the scene; “Beware the Jabberwock” but in the end it was scrapped in favour of keeping “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Disney still wanted the Jabberwocky poem included in the film though, so it replaced an original song for the Cheshire Cat instead.
Disney commissioned a team of top songwriters to compose songs based around Carroll’s writings and characters and a number of potential songs were written for the film. In fact technically, Alice in Wonderland contains more songs than any other Disney film, but because a lot are short, with some only lasting a few seconds, that fact is often overlooked.
Alice in Wonderland is not one of my ‘go to’ movies. That said, I do enjoy it and each time I watch it I am reminded of how fun it is. It is also very dark in places, which is a true reflection on the original novel which scared me witless as a child.
I adore the characters of Lewis Carroll’s creation; particularly the Cheshire Cat and Mad Hatter and I get incredibly excited when I spot the Mad Hatter at Disneyland.
A lot of film adaptations are criticised for not staying true to the books and of course, everyone has something to say about a director and actors interpretation of a well loved character, but actually I think Disney bucked the trend here. He brought us well rounded, well thought out characters that stayed true to the book but which are inherently Disney. They are animated beautifully and the public really took this version of Alice and the Wonderland characters to their hearts, as is evidenced by their popularity to this day.
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