14 March 2009

DVD: "Alice in Wonderland" - The Masterpiece Edition

Alice in Wonderland
Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Based upon the Novels "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" by Lewis Carroll
Starring the Voice Talent of: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Jerry Colonna, Verna Felton
DVD Release Date: 27 January 2004
MPAA Rating: G
List Price: $29.99, Currently Out of Print
Cinescopes Personality Types: Magical Creator, Youthful Sage, Existential Savior

The Film
It took Walt Disney more than twenty years to get this project off the ground, and when he finally got it going, it took five years and three million dollars to complete.  Rather than limiting the writers to the scope of Lewis Carroll's famed novel, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Disney authorized this amalgamation of both of Carroll's "Alice" stories.  The film follows the structure of "Wonderland" (Alice's boring day of studying with her sister is interrupted by a talking White Rabbit, whom she follows into the surreal Wonderland), but several segments were taken from "Looking-Glass."  Perhaps this is because they feared they might not get to adapt the second book later, or perhaps because they felt it enhanced the Wonderland experience.

The first thing you should know is that Alice in Wonderland was produced in a 4:3 aspect ratio, meaning there is no widescreen edition.  Beyond that, this lives up to its billing as "The Masterpiece Edition."  The only thing missing from this DVD release is a commentary track of some kind--a common feature absent on Disney DVDs.  New material includes are a few "set top games" (things you play using your DVD remote); one is a virtual tea party that features a newly cast Alice and Mad Hatter.  Kathryn Beaumont (the voice of Alice) introduces a recorded--but deleted--song for the Cheshire Cat, "I'm Odd."  "The Unbirthday Song" and "All in the Golden Afternoon" are excised and presented as sing-alongs.

Where this release really shines, though is in the vintage material.  There is a "One Hour in Wonderland" TV broadcast from Christmas Day 1950 in which the Magic Mirror is used to show excerpts from previous features to a party hosted by Walt Disney and attended by, among others, Kathy Beaumont.  (Warning: it is impossible to not want a refreshing Coca-Cola while watching this.)  Beaumont and Sterling Holloway (voice of the Cheshire Cat) also appear in character in an excerpt from The Fred Waring Show in which they lead an elaborate stage performance of a medley of the songs from the film.  There is also an original, 11:05 long behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the film, more than 12 minutes' worth of song demos, two original trailers (one for the 1951 release, the other for a subsequent re-issue), and an art gallery.

You also get two vintage short films inspired by the "Wonderland" stories: an original Mickey Mouse short, Thru the Mirror, as well as a silent short film written, produced and directed by Walt Disney in 1923 called Alice's Wonderland.  Cementing Disney's adoration of the stories are his original introductions to the TV broadcasts of this film version in 1954 and 1964.

The Recommendation
Fans of the Lewis Carroll original stories might balk at first at Disney's conflation of the two books, but I think the essence of Carroll's stories shines through.  Yes, things have been omitted or re-sequenced, but the feel of Carroll's works is unmistakable.  The Cheshire Cat has forever staked a claim in the annals of Disney characters, in no small part due to Sterling Holloway's reading of the character.  If there is one complaint to be registered with this film, it's that to boast the record for number of songs in the film, only "The Unbirthday Song" is remotely memorable.  There is no "When You Wish Upon a Star" or "Circle of Life" to be found here, and that's greatly disappointing from this particular studio.

Note that, while this is currently out of print, it is rumored to be considered as an inclusion in Disney's hallowed Platinum Edition line of titles for its next re-issue, due in a few years.

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