Ranking Disney: #11 – Alice in Wonderland (1951)
I had this in the top ten for the longest time. But at the last second (the very last second. Like, two days ago), I bumped it here. The reason being — well, when you see what #10 is — all the reasons point to that as being #10. I do mostly take into account which ones I like most, and in that regard, this is definitely a top ten. I love this film. But, I do also take into account everything else about the films, and, in that respect, the film that ended up being #10 has the scales tipped in its favor in many respects.
That said — #11 is not exactly a bad position for this to be in. This film is amazing. I love how it’s animated. It’s a gorgeous film. And as I said before — strictly in terms of how I love the films, this is a top ten film for me. It’s so well-animated, and trippy as hell. I really like that part of it. How it’s mostly free-form than anything. We just sort of stumble through this world for 70 minutes.
But, all things considered — I had to ultimately put it here, which — #11 is still a great spot. (Plus, what do lists matter anyway?)
The film begins with Alice’s sister sitting under a tree, giving Alice a history lesson. Alice doesn’t pay attention. Instead, she plays around in the tree with a cat, wondering how one could “possibly pay attention to a book with no pictures in it.” She says that in “her world,” the books will only have pictures in them and nothing else. She tells the cat how, if she had a world of her own, everything would be nonsense and nothing would be what it is. Everything would be what it isn’t. And she sings a song to this effect.
Then, after the song, she spots a white rabbit in a coat, who is hurrying along because he’s “late, for a very important date.” Curious, Alice chases after the rabbit and ends up at his rabbit hole. And she falls down the rabbit hole.
And she ends up going through a series of doors, one smaller than the other, until one door is too small for her to fit through.
Only, the doorknob (which can talk) tells her to drink the potion on the table in the room, which shrinks her.
Only then she becomes too small to reach the key to the door, which is on the table. So she eats a candy, which makes her grow, only then she becomes too big to fit once again.
So she starts to cry, and her tears are so big they start to flood the room. But then she drinks some of the potion and shrinks so small that she fits inside the bottle, and sails through the keyhole.
Then she finds the rabbit again and chases him into the forest.
There, she meets Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, who tell her the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter, devouring all those poor little oysters.
But she has no time to listen to their stories, so she hurries off. She winds up at the rabbit’s house, where he mistakes her for “Marianne,” and tells her to go find his gloves.
Inside the house, she eats another candy and ends up growing once again. And a passing dodo bird decides that the rabbit should burn the house down, thinking Alice is a monster. But then Alice eats a carrot from the garden, which shrinks her back down again. And the rabbit, seeing his watch again, realizes he’s still late and rushes off, completely forgetting about the monster in his house and his friend who is about to burn it down.
She then chases the rabbit into the flowers, and realizes she’ll never catch him when she’s that small. But then she spots some “bread and butterflies” and a “rocking horsefly” and starts talking to the flowers, which sing her a song.
Then they ask what kind of flower she is and get all uppity when she says she’s not one. Then she wanders off and runs into that hookah smoking caterpillar, who is too stoned to have a conversation with her.
Then he turns into a butterfly and tells her one side of the mushroom she’s sitting on will make her larger, and the other will make her smaller. Eventually she makes it to the right size and continues along the forest.
She then comes across the Cheshire Cat.
He tells her she should go to ask The Mad Hatter or the March Hare, both of whom she finds having tea at their “Unbirthday Party” (along with the Dormouse).
And they’re appropriately batshit, and eventually they all run into the White Rabbit again, and they destroy his watch and send him away. And Alice chases after him.
She then decides she just wants to go home. And she ends up in Tulgey Wood, where a bunch of odd (and brilliantly designed) creatures live.
She ends up lost in the woods and upset. She realizes that had she listened to her sister earlier, she wouldn’t be where she is. She sings a song about her character defects – how she always gives herself good advice but seldom follows it. And she starts crying, but then runs into the Cheshire Cat. And then the film turns into a political thriller.
We get introduced to the Queen. Alice is given a shortcut through a tree which takes her to the Queen’s hedge maze.
In there, she runs into the Queen’s men – playing cards (all clubs) – who paint all the white roses red. Alice decides to join them, because they’re singing a fun song (and because they’ll get their heads cut off if they don’t). Somehow she knows all the lyrics. Then the Queen shows up. All her men march in first – it’s very Pink Floyd’s The Wall, isn’t it?
Then we find out what the White Rabbit’s actual job is – playing the bugle that announces the Queen – and she comes in. The Queen of Hearts. She spots one of the roses painted red and orders all the cards’ heads cut off.
Then she and Alice play croquet and the Queen cheats. And the Cheshire Cat shows up and humiliates the Queen, and she puts Alice on trial.
And the March Hare, Dormouse and Mad Hatter are called as witnesses (there’s a nice “Off with your hat!” play on words during his part). And then they say it’s the Queen’s Unbirthday, and give her a hat, which ends up being the Cheshire Cat, which ends up causing mayhem in the court. And Alice ends up eating both halves of the mushroom, and growing to an enormous size, and then shrinking again.
And she manages to escape the court and run through the hedge maze, and then there’s a crazy trippy chase scene, and then Alice realizes she’s asleep, and wakes herself up before the Queen can catch her.
And she walks off to go have tea with her sister.
I love this film so much. This is some of their most complex and detailed animation ever. Look at some of those shots. Specifically the second to last one. They don’t deal with shadows that often in Disney. This is some really rich design work. And POV. This film has a lot of point of view animation, and that’s the kind of thing you almost never see in Disney. It’s beautiful. It’s the kind of thing where — when you see how they create certain frames, they actually make you feel something. I’ll show you examples down below. It actually makes me want to put this back at #10. But I’ll leave it at #11. Because honestly, it doesn’t even matter.
I love how the film is basically plotless. I love how trippy everything is. I love how this feels like a dreamlike journey, which is what it is. I love everything about this film except for the fact that the songs aren’t very good. Otherwise, this movie is perfect.
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Official Disney Number: #13
Run Time: 75 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 1951 (UK)
July 28, 1951 (US)
Budget: $3 million
Box Office: N/A (I can’t find a figure anywhere)
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- “Alice in Wonderland,” performed by Chorus
- “In a World of My Own,” performed by Kathryn Beaumont
- “I’m Late,” performed by Bill Thompson
- “The Sailor’s Hornpipe,” performed by Bill Thompson
- “The Caucus Race,” performed by Bill Thompson and Chorus
- “How Do You Do and Shake Hands,” performed by J. Pat O’Malley
- “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” performed by J. Pat O’Malley
- “Old Father William,” performed by J. Pat O’Malley
- “Smoke the Blighter Out,” performed by Bill Thompson
- All in the Golden Afternoon,” performed by Chorus
- “A-E-I-O-U,” performed by Richard Haydn
- “Twas Brillig,” performed by Sterling Holloway
- “A Very Merry Un-birthday (The Un-birthday Song),” performed by Ed Wynn and Jerry Colonna
- Very Good Advice,” performed by Kathryn Beaumont
- “Painting the Roses Red,” performed by The Mellomen (see cast for their members)
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- The film was nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. (It lost to An American in Paris.)
- One of Walt’s first animated shorts was of “Alice in Wonderland,” but it didn’t go over, so he left for Hollywood in the hopes of becoming a live-action director. But once he formed the Disney Brothers Studio with his brother Roy, their distributor watched his “Alice” cartoon and loved it, so between 1924 and 1926, Walt and Roy produced over fifty “Alice” animated shorts. They established Walt as a producer. Walt always wanted to make an “Alice” film, but never got around to it. He thought of making it his first feature, and even planned on combining live-action and animated elements (even shooting a Technicolor screen test with Mary Pickford as Alice. But then Paramount released Alice in Wonderland in 1933, so Walt left the idea on the shelf. But as soon as Snow White was a success, Walt began preparation on an “Alice” film in 1938. Though, with the war, and all the other films, he had to put it aside again. Then, after the war, Walt went back to “Alice,” thinking of doin the live-action/animated thing again, this time with Ginger Rogers as Alice (they also considered Lisa Davis Waltz, who voiced Anita in Dalmatians, and Luanna Patton, who was in Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart). Finally, by 1946, Walt started work on this version, which he intended to be more about music and spectacle as opposed to a tight narrative.
- This film has the greatest number of songs of any Disney film. Though, if you’ve seen the film — most of the songs are only heard for a few seconds.
- Apparently Kathryn Beaumont narrates this film’s ride at Disneyland. Which is awesome.
- This is the first time the voice cast is credited on-screen in a Disney film. And it wouldn’t happen again until The Jungle Book.
- The film is a combination of both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”
- The Doorknob is the only character that was created by Disney and wasn’t in the books.
- There’s a hidden Mickey in the Dodo’s pipe as he lights it when Alice is stuck in the house.
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1. “Oh, I’m trippin’ off acid!”
2. This film contains a brilliant use of shading. You don’t really see this in other Disney films, at least to this extent. Look at that second shot. The care that was taken in the coloring. It’s gorgeous.
3. The film also contains a great use of POV images. Look at how they set up the frames — you actually feel like you’re in the point of view of these characters. It’s incredible. I don’t know why Disney didn’t do it more often. It’s really a thrilling feeling.
This next one isn’t POV, it’s just great framing. And the one after it is the reverse shot of it, which is POV.
4. Bitch doin’ some of that blow. Got that yayo. Some of that cocaína. That white powder. (Cocaine.)
5. This is one of my favorite shots in all of Disney. You never see them set up a frame like this. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
6. Classic Disney shot: Character reflected in the water.
7. I’m telling you — animals waving is always funny.
8. Negative coloring. (Wouldn’t be Disney without it. Negative coloring for the visuals and racism for the narrative.)
9. Colors. Look at the colors. I’m a sucker for colors, and this is something that fits my tastes to many letters, especially a tee.
10. Everything about this image is incredible:
11. Alice has some of the best facial expressions of any Disney character. Look at her: “What the fuck is this shit?”
12. Classic Disney framing — the foliage around the edges.
13. The lights on the flowers reminds me of the light-up drums in the opening number of Fantasia.
14. Some of the great visual gags in the Mad Hatter scene.
15. Very obvious visual reference to Fantasia, and Mickey destroying the broom.
16. Visual reference to Snow White:
17. “Oo Ee oh. Yo oh.” (You know you were thinking it too.)
18. This has Fantasia written all over it. “Nutcracker Suite.” Dancing flowers. The Russian Dance part.
19. I love this image. So much. It’s just powerful.
20. Straight out of “Pink Elephants on Parade.”
21. This is one of those images I was talking about up top, where they frame them in such a way that they make you feel something. This just feels like a powerful image. It overwhelms you. Imagine sitting in a theater and having this be on the big screen in front of you. It’ll get your heart racing. I love that about this film.
22. Solitaire, Motherfucker!
23. The first image is your classic slapstick moment — running through all the doors at different times. (Also, imagine “Yakety Sax” being played over this chase.)
24. Another image that’s just beautiful. And it’s got the shading, even has a sunset sort of tint to it — man, this is a top five or ten animated film for me. The animation here is some of their absolute best.