When it comes to Disney Classics, most of us work from memory from seeing them in childhood and carrying our fondness through adulthood. We really don’t remember them as well as we think, but we remember to be entertained. Alice in Wonderland is a bit of a different beast, however, in that it was one of the few Disney classics that I didn’t care for as a kid – mostly because I could never understand it. It’s been a long time since I last saw it and only remembered the portions of the movie that had left me most dumbfounded in the past, so this opportunity to see if I could finally appreciate the movie was much anticipated.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND is a story about a young girl who grows bored listening to her older sister read aloud from a history book about William I of England. While dozing off, she dreams about falling down a rabbit hole (“Wonderland”) that is populated by a peculiar series of misadventures. The always sensible Alice whirls through a world of contradictions, imagination and surprises where she encounters amazing creatures – including a pocket watch-toting White Rabbit, the imperious Queen of Hearts and her army of playing cards, a Cheshire Cat with a lingering smile in an unforgettable fantasy, and the off-kilter Madhatter – and tests her sensibility and courage. In the end it’s all a dream, she is awakened by her sister’s voice, and as the two of them return home for teatime where she realizes that perhaps logic and reason exist for purpose. And in return, her sister realizes affectionately that Alice is still young, but will grow-up in time.
Of course, being a Disney classic, the first thing you truly notice is the dedication to the animation. Previous to this review I had no idea that this was made all the way back in 1951, having usually figured its creation to be more in the 1970’s, or maybe early 1980’s, so the quality in animation became even more impressive with that in mind throughout my latest viewing. Whether it’s from smooth transitions even as the pace quickens in a highly detailed area, or even going down to a subtle touch such as her nose squishing for a brief instant as she runs her hand along her face, the animators put a valiant effort into every frame that graces the length of this movie. It’s truly a shame that this sort of dedication is so rare now, especially when you consider that this is hand-drawn, as opposed to modern technology that is supposed to make animators’ jobs easier rather than sloppier.
The voice cast is made up of a horde of talented professionals whose careers you’ll be lucky to have seen the tail-end of if you’re of movies from around this time of the 20th century, but most of them at least did work in other Disney movies. It probably won’t leave their faces springing to forethought, but at the very least you may have rediscover one of their golden voices that had frequently graced other movies from childhood. The most notable as of right now may be the original actress for Alice, Kathryn Beaumont, whose most recent work even includes credits for providing the voice for Alice on the Kingdom Hearts games. The Mad Hatter’s actor, Ed Wynn, seems to be the most memorable among the cast that I can spot – thanks in part to his unique voice, as well as his live action appearances. It’s shocking to find that he passed away a mere decade, and some change, after Alice in Wonderland was released considering I enjoyed many of his roles throughout my childhood even though his passing was several decades before I was even born.
I have to admit, I’ve never even laid sight on a physical copy of Alice in Wonderland or even a hint of text from its passages so I really have no idea how faithful characters or the story are faithful to the original. But, when it comes to the characters, I have to say that there may have been too many that Disney attempted to feature. The movie doesn’t carry much of a coherent plot that is carried throughout its runtime aside from the titular feature of Alice’s jaunt through Wonderland. The stories expectedly feel rich in metaphor, but without much opportunity to really resonate in the audience as the movie quickly moves on to something completely unrelated, and potentially even upsetting to what flimsy idea of pace the movie has anyway. Even before the halfway point it had become clear as to why I could never take a liking to the movie as a kid, as opposed to other Disney Classics, because the movie simply jumps around far too often.
Overall, it was a truly fascinating movie to see that they were willing to do such a complex idea for an animated film even back in 1951, but it just doesn’t seem to stand the test of time. Once the movie was over, there wasn’t any scene that stuck with me as spectacular or even noteworthy aside from the wonderful animation, as it felt nothing more than a collection of mini-stories that had abruptly ended before they could find any sort of gratifying resolution or even reason for existing. Even the movie’s ending goes with this as the most dramatic sequence in the movie, Alice’s escaping the Red Queen, is ended by her simply managing to wake up. There is possibly a message in there that I’m too daft too discover, but it just didn’t make for a worthwhile movie to me. Unless you’re a diehard fan that has loved this throughout the years, you’re most likely in a similar situation that I was so I recommend this for a Rental, on the side of caution.
What do you think I’m going to say about this release other than that it is absolutely spectacular? The set itself arrives in a single width Elite case with two discs inside. One of the discs is the Blu-ray, while the other is a DVD copy of the film. Not having owned this film in any previous release I can’t say for sure if it’s the same single disc DVD as before, but it appears to be. Also included are the usual Disney inserts as well as the Disney Movie Rewards code that you redeem online.
So how does this sixty year old film look? Not a day over one. The animation looks absolutely brilliant from start to finish and the level of detail included in this AVC encoded 1080p 1.33:1 image is simply remarkable. I had a similar reaction to this film as I did with Pinnochio as the restoration is just about as breathtaking and astonishing to look at; as before, I have to say I am absolutely floored. The fluidity of the animation combined with just how much the colors pop off the screen…there really isn’t quite anything like animation in 1080p and there’s nothing quite like Disney classic animation either. When the two are combined you really can’t help but gawk at the screen, no matter the scene or what’s going on in the film.
The audio comes in a English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that does little else with the seven channels but fill the surrounds with the music from the film. The voices are exclusively (from what I could tell at least) in the center channel only, creating a very mono-sounding track from beginning to end. Even the LFE moments are subdued and there just really isn’t much of a surround effort made for any of this film. But at least they didn’t pop a 7.1 track on here like they did with Pinocchio–talk about overkill on that one. Having said that there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with this audio track and it will deliver all the goods you could possibly hope from a film this old.
Extras for this film are heavy and include a nice mixture of old and new:
Brand-New Blu-ray Features:
• Through the Keyhole: A Companion’s Guide to Wonderland – View the movie in this special mode and discover references to the original Lewis Carroll classic. Kathryn Beaumont introduces.
• Disney View – Watch the movie in this expanded viewing experience with new Disney art in the wings of the screen.
• Painting the Roses Red Game – Help paint the roses red in the Queen’s garden. Careful, or someone could lose their head.
• Walt Disney Color TV Introduction (1959) – A never-before-seen color TV intro by Walt.
• Reference Footage: Alice and the Doorknob – Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Alice, provides an introduction to this newly discovered reference footage of Alice talking to the doorknob.
• Pencil Test: Alice Shrinks – Kathryn Beaumont introduces a newly discovered pencil test of Alice shrinking.
Plus, Classic Features:
• “I’m Odd” Newly Discovered Cheshire Cat Song + Intro
• Thru the Mirror Mickey Mouse Animated Short (Now in Hi-Def)
• Art Gallery (with new design and new images)
• Reflections on Alice
• Operation Wonderland (Now in Hi-Def)
• One Hour in Wonderland
• An Alice Comedy: Alice’s Wonderland
• Original Theatrical Trailers (1951 & 1974)
• Walt Disney TV Introduction (1954 & 1964)
• The Fred Waring Show (Excerpt)
• Deleted Materials:
o Deleted Scene: Pig and Pepper
o From Wonderland to Neverland: The Evolution of a Song – An entertaining look at how a song originally written for Alice in Wonderland, finally found its home in another Disney favorite, Peter Pan.
o Deleted Storyboard Concept: Alice Daydreams in the Park – Deleted storyboard sequence set to music.
o Original Song Demos: “Beware The Jabberwock”; “Everything Has A Useness”; “So They Say”; “Beautiful Soup”; “Dream Caravan”; “If You’ll Believe In Me”
The majority of the extras are obviously available from the previous DVD releases of the film so chances are you’ve seen the majority of them already. Still, they’re a nice refresher as there’s a lot of classic material like the Walt Disney TV Introductions and the original theatrical trailers. Aside from a few instances though these ported extras are all in standard definition—though that’s to be expected.
The rest of the extras, including the PiP track, as well as the myriad of behind-the-scenes extras on the disc that is a mixture of past release as well as some genuinely new material is all really well done. It’s really about as definitive as you can get in terms of bonus material for this film. While deleted scenes and alternate ending is in storyboard form, just to be able to see “what could have been” even in the most simplest of forms is nothing short of awesome. There’s something about seeing all of this old material resurrected for the home video releases that feels like you’re delving into a treasure chest of sorts. There isn’t quite as much as there has been for previous films, but still more than enough to keep you busy for a few more hours past gawking over the film for the first go around.
Overall Alice in Wonderland on Blu-ray does not disappoint. In fact I’d wager to say it’s the first real Must Own Blu-ray of 2011—Disney really impresses, once again, with a brilliant restoration and a veritable treasure trove of extras.
Alice in Wonderland – 60th Anniversary Edition is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Film review by Andrew
Blu-ray review by Zach Demeter