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ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Kathryn Beaumont, Sterling Holloway, Ed Wynn, Jerry Colonna, Verna Felton, Bill Thompson
Directors:  Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Audio:  DTS HD 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  75 Minutes
Release Date:  February 1, 2011

"Begin at the beginning."

"And when you come to the end...STOP!"

Film **

Alice in Wonderland had been a dream project of Walt Disney's for about as long as his studio had been in existence.  It seemed like a perfect match on paper:  Lewis Carroll's eternally enchanting stories of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass married to Disney's impeccable ability to bring classic tales to life with animation and music.

But the end result was a bit cool, and a little more than off-putting.  It's always pained me to say it, but Alice has never been one of my favorite Disney offerings.  The charm of Carroll's stories seemed completely lost under the weight of animation that cared about the stories' oddities and not much else.  Most every character in the movie is loathsome, and Alice is a bland protagonist at best.  Even Disney would later dismiss his own creation, saying it was "full of weird characters".

The original books were staples of my childhood, and like they did for many kids over the years, they captured and fueled my imagination.  To be fair to Walt, I don't think any filmed version has lived up the vision that played out in my head.  To be even more fair, Alice in Wonderland was plagued with its share of troubles, from numerous starts and stops, to endless re-designs, to a catalogue of some 50 songs that were mostly unused, to the fact that the second World War put production on hold for a number of years and so on.

The original stories were episodic, witty, and creative.  The movie is void of structure and direction.  Alice meanders through non-related scenarios, meets strange beings and sees unusual things, and eventually wakes up to find there's no place like home (or something thereabout).  There are no less than 13 story writers credited to the picture...can adapting a book really be so hard?

Too many cooks frequently spoil the broth, which is why Alice feels so disjointed.  It captured the quirkiness of Carroll but none of the wit or charm.  Some parts of it seem downright mean spirited, such as the caterpillar who blows smoke in Alice's face, or the bellowing queen who beheads her subjects on whims.  The poor white rabbit is tormented throughout, be it the dodo who tries to burn his house down, or the irritating Mad Hatter and March Hare destroying his pocket watch.

What few songs survived are surprisingly unmemorable, given how many great tunes Disney films had given us up to that point.  The best song, "I'm Late", really didn't make it in except for a few spoken words.  "The Unbirthday Song" and "How Do You Do and Shake Hands" were both stripped down (I had a record of the songs when I was younger, and they were actually better and much fuller). 

As far as the animation goes, the best parts are physical comedy bits and visual puns, like the bread and butterflies, or the tea party ("Only half a cup!").  Others seem rehashed...the walrus and the carpenter reminded me an awful lot of the cat and fox from Pinocchio.

I'm railing on and on here, which I tend to do after seeing the movie for the first time in a long while.  I don't hate it, by any stretch.  I'm just disappointed in it.  It reminds me of the weaker efforts the studio would put forth in the years immediately following Walt's death, instead of being an example from his heyday.  It's a colorful production with a good share of wonder; kids always seem captivated by it. 

But Disney's best animated films also appealed to the grown-ups, too, and that's where Alice falls flat.  Every time I watch it, I end up wishing I'd picked up one of the books instead.  Maybe that can be considered a legacy in its own right.

Video ****

This film was never at a loss for colors, and I'm pleased to say, it's a beautiful offering in high definition.  The tones and shades are bright and plentiful, and the crispness and contrast between them has never looked more lively.  I dare say, I bet this is even better than seeing it in a theatre during its initial release.  High marks!

Audio ***1/2

There are fewer songs at play here than in most Disney animated offerings, but this new DTS HD home theatre mix still delivers plenty of dynamic range from the music and crazy comedy.  The overall balance between low and high frequencies is much improved here, and the dialogue comes through cleanly.  

Features ***1/2

This combo pack offers plenty of new features, starting with a companion's guide to Wonderland,  reference footage from Alice meeting the doorknob, and Disney View, which is a nicer way of viewing a non-widescreen film.  Instead of bars on the left and right, you get appropriate artwork.  I kind of like this way of seeing Disney classics, but you have the choice.

The disc also contains the 50s television featurette "One Hour in Wonderland", featuring Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Walt Disney, the young Kathryn Beaumont and more.  Clips from Disney films are featured, including a full clip from Song of the South, which may be the closest we'll ever get to seeing the film on home video.  It's a nice throwback treat, but even more so is the original "Alice" silent cartoon "Alice's Wonderland" (Disney experimented with combining a live action girl with animation back in the 20s...these "Alice" films were delightful, but largely forgotten today).  You also get the "Reflections on Alice" featurette, plus two interactive games and a deleted scene.

There are also art galleries, deleted materials, a pair of trailers, and some of Walt Disney's television introductions.  There is also a DVD version.

Summary:

Alice in Wonderland is considered to be a classic by many, but a pretty-but-mediocre offering by me.  I don't think this is one of Walt's finest moments, but if you do, this amazing new Blu-ray combo pack is certainly the way to go.

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