When I sit down to watch
Alice in Wonderland, it is a struggle. As you may have deduced in reading this blog,
I love stories and storytelling. Alice is not a film that
focuses on story. It is a bizarre romp
through colorful characters that meanders from one scene to the next, with
barely a line of dialogue or visual to connect the scenes. It makes for some amazing visual filmmaking
that fails to tell a story.
The film ostensibly tells the story of
Alice following the White Rabbit through a
rabbit hole into Wonderland. But the
problem is, the White Rabbit is mostly absent during the course of the
film. The idea that this is what drives Alice becomes lost about halfway through the film, and
leads to a wandering and lost Alice. It’s a shame, because the work done by the
animators here is very good, and the combination of visuals, music and voice
acting is quite excellent.
Start with the visual feast that is
Alice in Wonderland. The imagination on display is fun to look at,
and flows naturally from Mary Blair’s designs.
The brilliance of the flowers sequence, where the flowers sing “A Golden
Afternoon” to Alice,
is one of my favorite things in the entire film. The use of puns on the bread and butterflies,
the rocking horsefly and others supplements the whimsical designs and
voices. But anyone who has seen the film
knows that two sequences stand out more than any other.
The mad tea party that is joined by the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse is probably the most recognizable sequence of the whole film. Ed Wynn’s performance as the Mad Hatter was so memorable that he is the main character outside of
Alice to appear as a
character in the Disney parks. It makes
for a fun and very entertaining bit of film to watch them demolish cups, sing
songs and do things that are physically impossible. Alice’s
astonishment and look of wonder is a stand in for the audience watching these
proceedings and trying to figure out what is going on in this crazy world.
That’s the issue with the film, though, is that the audience spends most of their time trying to figure out what they should look at, where they are and what’s going on. The place where this is the least applicable in the film is the very end, when
Alice finds herself in
the court of the Red Queen. That
sequence has a fairly straightforward flow – the queen gets upset about the
roses, meets Alice
and engages in a cricket game. When Alice gets sabotaged by
the Cheshire Cat, she is sentenced to die and has to find a way out of that
predicament. It all flows one detail to
Contrast that to the early scenes where
Alice flows from floating in the ocean to the
silliness of the caucus race to the confrontational nature of Tweedledee and
Tweedledum and over to the Walrus and the Carpenter story. All of that in about 15 minutes! The film is schizophrenic to say the
least. What ends up making it memorable
for me is the music.
Many don’t realize it, but this is the Disney film with the most songs. The reason for that, as I wrote yesterday, is because the filmmakers wanted to pull in as much of the poetry from the Carroll books as they could. What happens is many memorable songs, like “A Golden Afternoon,” “The Unbirthday Song,” “March of the Cards” and more. These are songs that are played to this day at the Disney parks, and survive as great memories.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make
Alice in Wonderland a good film. The lack of narrative flow through and depth
in the characters makes it ultimately a bizarre accumulation of visuals. I honestly find it hard to watch until it
gets to the tea party, and have trouble staying interested, which is not a
problem I typically have with Disney films.
Even Walt acknowledged that Alice
did not turn out the way he wanted, and I have to say I agree with him.