Disney: Alice In Wonderland

Disney Classics are known for often having the odd trippy musical number placed into the mix. As has been brought up from time to time in this blog; Dumbo probably still owns the crowning glory for “Pink Elephants On parade,” but Alice In Wonderland is almost an entire film that is one big trip. And where else would you go with a story like that!

Thankfully Disney has always been good at writing solid narratives, and Alice in Wonderland is no exception. It doesn’t matter how colourful and bizarre the characters get (and there are many here – just count ‘em! The Cheshire Cat with his enormous toothy grin and his ability to disappear and sometimes go half transparent; the smoking caterpillar man; the enraged Queen of Hearts with her deck of cards for foot soldiers; and need we mention the Mad Hatter!), Disney always makes sure that there is still a linearity to the nonsensical chaos that surrounds their main character. And it is Alice who keeps us well and truly grounded in reality as she slowly loses patience with the lunatics around her.

There is a warped sense of humour going on in this title as well – Alice goes from one encounter to the next after dropping down the rabbit hole – each making less sense as she goes. Tweedledum and Tweedledee tell one of the most barbaric tales ever committed to a Disney film with the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter (Despite it being stolen from the book’s sequel). It may make adults chuckle at the cruelty involved in its dark humour, but it is hardly a tale to tell children. Of course the Mouse House make it accessible to kids with some delightfully playful and light music, as well as the daft animation. The Carpenter sells it with his over active glee at preparing the meal.

Alice finds herself constantly changing too – in the physical sense – growing short and growing tall depending on whatever she eats or drinks. It’s a delightful idea and really pushes the boundaries of imagination letting a viewing know that anything is possible in the literary world. God only knows what they could have achieved with the story if more than just her body could change.

The surreal nature of the story continues with a play on words conversation with the caterpillar man, who then points Alice to the oddest thing in relation to the growing/eat me thing. The mushroom – one side makes you grow, the other makes you shrink. And how is this possible if a mushroom is round and does not have sides?  Only in Wonderland.

Confusion mounts as Alice then encounters a character that today still baffles many as to whether he is a villain or not. That cat with the grin that is sometimes a grin without a cat shows up to toy with Alice. In the Disney version the Cheshire Cat is more mischievous – Often getting Alice into trouble – and often presenting the viewer with a range of visual complexities (His head rolling off and the aforementioned ability to transpire). His direction sends Alice off to the Mad Hatters “unbirthday” tea party. Again we are arrested with visions of complete daftness (Half a cup of tea is literally a cup being sliced down the middle and then drank). It is perhaps here that Alice really fully understands that she is going to get nowhere in any of these random meetings. Although taken in by their good humour she eventually realises that the absurd will take its toll on anyone’s patience and so has to leave then in their irrepressible ignorant bliss.

After here – being led to the Queen of Hearts kingdom – the film finally takes on a real threat as the Queen only too quickly shows her true colours. It is perhaps Alice’s upbringing that saves her from losing her head as she is able to quickly work round the Queens demands. The Queen would be worthy of the crown of Queen of all villainy in Disney is she were not so two dimensional. Her face literally (and often hilariously) turns right red and even purple when her temper is pushed and her voice level rises. Despite Alice’s efforts, that darn Cat works his magic and Alice finds herself on trial (thanks to an oddly sympathetic tiny king). The trial itself is a culmination of Alice’s worst fears as logic and sense all go out the window as some supporting characters return to cause general disarray.

After her own attempt to gain the upper hand, Alice is soon on the run – and it is a bizarre reel of imagery that is thrown at the screen as she makes her way back to the outside world (The face slapping pun here is that she has been asleep the whole time). It is a bit of a cop-out ending like in any badly produced horror film: And having said that it is in that genre that Alice may well find her future as there are enough ideas to produce something intelligent, gripping as well as deep. You may think that a film maker like Tim Burton would be well suited to this world, but the evidence is apparently to the computer generated contrary.

It is an interesting look at a confused world through the eyes of a child, and is perhaps commentary on the adult world through that of a youngster. It makes no sense; it has lost all of its compassion and heart, and serves perhaps as a warning to those growing up of what they have to face in the world out there once we are fully grown and unguarded. The biggest threat of course is that it is what we all eventually become: Experienced, with all trace of innocence gone.

Steven Hurst

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