It’s difficult to know how to approach writing about Alice in Wonderland, surely Disney’s most off the wall, straight up ridiculous of all of their films. The real culprit here is, of course, Lewis Carroll, who wrote such a memorably nonsensical story filled with unforgettable images and silly poems. Disney were clearly in a habit of adapting British children’s literature at this point; Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan all came in fairly close succession – it’s amazing they didn’t adapt some E. Nesbit, too. Yet in choosing Carroll’s curious fable, they went as surreal and as narratively bizarre as they ever got. Each of Disney’s more fairy tale oriented films have a least one moment of strangeness, but nothing quite matches the relentless oddity of Alice in Wonderland.
With the freedom afforded to them by Carroll’s episodic, nonsensical narrative, the animators and story tellers let their imagination run wild. This is the most visually creative Disney film since Fantasia, using colourful, mesmeric lighting to make it even more trippy and dreamlike. Each different part of Wonderland she stumbles into has a distinct look about it, one highlight being Tulgey Wood, a forest filled with animal-object hybrids such as spectacle birds and dogs with a broom for a head. Round every corner there’s something bizarre and beautiful to admire, all set to a technicolour backdrop clearly establishing it as a dream world. It’s entirely fantastical, and all the more visually impressive because of it.
Not only that, but Alice is Disney’s greatest heroine so far, as she’s a good deal more interesting than Cinderella or Snow White. Yes, her accent is impossibly clipped, and she’s still doe-eyed in a very Disney way, but her curiosity makes her a fascinating and endearing character, and her flaws make her relatable. Yes, that’s right, a Disney female with flaws, that she even goes as far to acknowledge in herself! There’s also a really interesting theme running through where Alice tries to work out who she is – something she keeps asking herself, and may not have even figured out by the end. That’s automatically more layered than most of Disney’s women (until around the 90s) and puts her in contention for Disney’s best heroine of all.
It’s also worth pointing out that it’s just really, really funny. There’s an absurdity to the situations that feels almost like a child friendly version of Monty Python, and so much of the film is so wilfully silly that it transcends Disney’s usual slapstick for something that is, at times, laugh out loud hilarious. Again, most of the credit goes to Carroll, but the animation studio should be celebrated for their commitment to the jokes, and for making a film where flamingos are used as croquet clubs and a lizard explodes into the atmosphere only to be dismissed with a sad “poor Bill,” never to be heard of again. The script is so rich in humour, too; the language zips about between the different characters as the absurdity escalates. Just listen to the dialogue in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for a master-class in surreal humour. The weirdness and the funniness all feel really natural, too; a far cry from Tim Burton’s abomination of a film that should never be watched, or spoken of, again.
I could go on, because Alice In Wonderland is honestly the Disney film I’ve enjoyed most in the project so far. I just love everything about it, from the silly poem that the mouse recites as he drifts down from a cake firework explosion, to the hookah-smoking caterpillar with magical smoke. But writing such a serious review doesn’t entirely seem fitting for such a wilfully odd film, so I’ve decided to do a few slightly less sensible examinations of the film below.
A review that is just quotes from the film but hopefully captures the spirit of it
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
“Ahoy! And other nautical expressions!”
“Twinkle twinkle little bat,
How I wonder what you are at
Up above the world, you fly
like a tea tray in the sky.”
“You may have noticed that I’m not all there myself…”
“Well, after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs.”
“It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.”
“I have an excellent idea. LET’S CHANGE THE SUBJECT!”
A review entirely made up of strange and pretty screencaps
A review that compares Alice to Inception for no good reason
One of the worst review clichés out there is to arbitrarily compare films based on one simple plot point or genre similarity. Buses told me that Pitch Perfect was Bridesmaids meets Ted (how?) and after Christopher Nolan’s dream bending sci-fi was released, any remotely intelligent genre film after that was described by lazy writers as “It’s Inception meets [insert film that has a similar plot point/actor, here].” Never one to be above cliché, I’m going to claim that Alice in Wonderland is Inception meets Fantasia, because it’s about dreams and also it is animated.
Just like Inception the story works in layers, as Alice gets deeper into the dream, and the threat level gets higher. Just like Inception it has an ending that reveals everything was a dream (or was it? BWAAAAHHHH), but that essentially it doesn’t make a difference; the dream is real. Where it’s better than Inception is the way it doesn’t feel the need to explain absolutely everything that’s going on. Some things are just strange and that’s the way of things and there isn’t much you can do about it. My biggest problem with Inception, a film I like very much, was that for a film set in a dream world, it wasn’t nearly strange enough.
Another reviewing cliché I could have used here is: “It’s like Pinocchio on acid!” but that’s a whole different article.
A review written in the style of a nonsense poem that Carroll might have written on an off day
The critics cats slunked and slanked
out of the forest of words.
Mewing and reviewing;
the critic cats are watching.
And here is what they said:
“How briffling is Wonderland!
How hiperous its places!
Tis strange, and weird and wonderful,
and full of memilous faces.”
“The Hatter and the Hare,
How greatly do they whuckle!
The queen and her flamingos,
Can make a sane man truckle.”
“Dearly do we love Alice
Her brunny words and ways,
So mimsy is her attitude
In everything she says!”
“One last thought!”
The critics whimbled dim:
“Alice is a frabjous joy,
Keep it from Burton, Tim!”