Alice in Wonderland (1951)

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“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kids. And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings…”

This movie is…. weird. I don’t know if there’s really any other way to describe it. The scary thing is, I’m not making fun of it. Lewis Carroll always said his Alice books were meant to be weird and fun. They weren’t meant to have morals. They were just random silliness for kids and readers to enjoy. There have been theories that some of the stories have mathematical allusions or political allusions, but I don’t know what Carroll himself ever said these theories were right. Maybe he did unconsciously. These books were just silly and weird and fun. In that aspect, Disney did those books justice. This is a lot of random silliness. Is there a moral? People have been digging for one for years. Some people have found them (or many of them in her different smaller stories), and some haven’t. I’m of the latter crew. To me, Alice in Wonderland is just weird and silly, and much like “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” just something to be experienced (wow… NEVER thought I’d make that comparison!!)

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is a hybrid of Carroll’s Alice through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. All but one of the characters we meet in the movie come directly out of the books (the oddball original being the doorknob in the beginning.) So what’s it about? Here we go:

Alice is a young girl in victorian england..? that hates having to study and recite prose, etc. In other words, she’s a kid. After wandering in her garden chasing after her cat, Dina, she sees a white rabbit with a huge pocket watch exclaiming “I’m late/I’m late, for a very important date!” Curious, she chases after him and ends up falling into a hole and is transported to Wonderland. I’m not going to go into great detail here (cause honestly that would take a LONG TIME), but once in Wonderland she meets a whole host of strange characters, each of them, she ends up realizing, is completely mad and bonkers. It all culminates with meeting the red queen who puts her on trial and wants “off with her head,” to which Alice runs, realizes that this whole thing has been a dream, and wakes up.

I honestly don’t even know how to go about this review. The only central character is Alice herself (voiced by a girl we’ll see in our next movie – Kathryn Beaumont). She seems smart enough. I like that we almost get a running commentary done by her throughout the movie: she doesn’t mind talking to herself, and I really enjoy those moments when she’s trying to figure things out for herself in Wonderland. Otherwise, this movie is kinda just one character and one small story after another. Some of them we might see later in the movie (like the mad hatter and the Cheshire cat) and some – many – we don’t (the walrus and the carpenter, the caterpillar, etc). Each has some sort of strange interaction/story to share with our main character, and then she either gets fed up and is on her way, or she’s kicked out.

That being said, this movie is just creative and fun. It’s a bunch of smaller stories/interactions, so it would probably hold a kid’s attention pretty well, even in this day and age. The characters range from silly to scary to just… uh…. yeah. Their personalities can change at the flip of a button (i’m looking at you you racist flowers!) or they can be strangely understanding (the cheshire cat is – arguably – the only who seems to care about what happens to the girl, even if he does get her in trouble with the queen – he does help her.).

The Mad Hatter is always one that people remember, and with good reason. He’s crazy with his tea party and his “Very Merry Unbirthday” song and the way he fixes watches. Ed Wynn was a staple of early Disney and embodying strange characters, so he was a perfect choice for this character.  And also – what’s up with the dormouse?? is he high on tea? seriously. Then there’s the caterpillar… yeah. How was this ever a kids book/movie? I guess for the same reason I argued about the crows and Pink elephant parade in Dumbo. Kids don’t know what they’re watching. the caterpillar is just smoking (which they might see as bad, but not in the way adults see that bong…). They might just think the dormouse is sleepy. (Is he? I’m still not sure I know what’s going on…).

I always loved the Walrus and the Carpenter. I can seriously recite that whole poem, don’t ask me why or how. It’s morbid, sure, but I don’t know, it’s just a one off in the story and then they’re gone. I don’t know why I always like them. I’m also a fan of the queen. She’s just goofy, with the croquet and the crazy need for her flowers to be red and being so keen to say “off with their head.” I’m sure you could read all into that, but I choose not to. to me, it’s just crazy wacky goodness.

I am a little depressed we didn’t get to see the gryphon, the jabberwocky or the mock turtle, but I understand. when you sort of combine two books (Although the movie really IS mostly …In Wonderland) you can’t have everyone in them. I almost wonder what would have happened had he just done one of the books (I personally like …Through the looking glass better.)*

The songs in this movie are forgettable, with the exception of the little diddy the rabbit sings and the mad hatter song. I actually love that Disney included some of Carroll’s poems from the story in the mix (such as “twinkle twinkle little bat,” “In the Golden Afternoon,” etc). The animation is great: wacky and kooky and goes along well with the story. The character designs are great too. The flowers are wonderful. I LOVE the cheshire cat design. I also love the forest character where there’s the dog with the broom head, the birds out of glasses and mirrors. It’s just so… wonderfully weird.

I know a lot of people just forget this movie. They say it’s too weird or they don’t get it or that Lewis Carroll must have been high when he wrote it. Like I said – I’ve heard he wrote it to just be fun and silly. I’ve also heard that he wrote it to explain complex mathematics? (I don’t know much about that theory…) Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t look at this one too deeply. If you just let yourself get swept away in the story and the characters and the weirdness, you might find yourself really enjoying it. I myself will actually probably end up moving it down in my list, simply because I prefer movies with plots and morals. But it’s still fun. Still extremely fun and weird, and sometimes you need to just watch a movie like that.

Give it a watch if you haven’t seen it, or even if you haven’t seen it since you were a kid. And try not to think too deeply. That will keep you from having the fun.

I give Alice in Wonderland (1951) a 3.5 out of 5. Strictly because sometimes I can’t stop myself from trying to make it into something it’s not…

Up Next: Peter Pan (1953)

*Also, please do not ask me to ever compare this to the Johnny Depp version. Although that one is actually much more of a combination of the books, I absolutely despise it and have no idea how it got so much money. That movie probably is making Lewis Carroll roll over in his grave. Alice wasn’t even the main character!!! (ok, mini-rant over!)

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One thought on “Alice in Wonderland (1951)

  1. I just love the weirdness of this movie!

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