Disney was and is a studio with an impenetrably inflated sense of quality control. Which is why it’s still taken at face value that Uncle Walt publicly disowned—make that, flat out apologized for—his 1951 adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic work of British satire. It is undoubtedly true that despite the hard work of over a dozen screenwriters (including ghost work by none other than Aldous Huxley), almost all of Lewis Carroll’s intricate wordplay, satirical jabs at Victorian society and memorable poems are obliterated, but it’s all in the name of whittling down a dense tome into a svelte 75-minute locomotive. And far worse damage has been done to beloved works of art in service of Disney kitsch (Stravinsky rightly wished bodily harm on whoever was responsible for turning his “Rite of Spring” into an idiots’ guide to evolution—admittedly a hot topic in the day). What remains is an ode to childlike wonder over nonsensical fantasies. It might be that Alice in Wonderland‘s status as being apart from Walt’s personal favorites (and no one can argue the evidence that the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is the most vomit-inducing ride in Disneyland) is how much it refuses to adhere to the binding, conservative Disney archetypes. Alice has no real hero (it’s really just a girl dozing off during her studies), nor does it have a Madame Satan villainess (the corpulent Queen of Hearts is a terrifying and iconic figure to be sure, but she’s got her humorous, Dominatrix moments and turns out to be really no more dangerous than the pack of cards Alice tosses aside). There is no attempt to affirm the supremacy of patriarchal courtship, no real lessons to be learned (in fact, it plays a lot like The Wizard of Oz without the “There’s no place like home” homily tagged on at the end). This lack of force-fed moralizing, coupled with its diffuse plot and hazily psychedelic imagery, makes it hardly surprising that the film’s revival came about when it developed a cult following. This is Disney’s own movie for people who like the reefer (though, the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence in Dumbo trumps it in that regard).
Alice in Wonderland looks and sounds gorgeous.to be concise about it, your Majesty. A sparkling full frame transfer with vibrant colors and an almost non-existent level of artifacts, it looks no older than The Lion King (it's also incidentally far more hip). The only problem I noticed was some ghosting during Alice's courtroom growth spurt. The original mono soundtrack also sounds flawless, if a bit quiet and close compared to the expansive (albeit clop-hoppingly directional) 5.1 remixes in English, French and Spanish. Commendable.
For a film not particularly well-liked by the former mogul, Disney has put together a beyond-generous slate of eat me's and drink me's. Sort of unofficially divided, the first disc (the one with the film itself) has all the kids' stuff (all the better to keep the selling points aimed at their demographic when the film is inevitably reissued in the single-disc version) and the second disc is the more historically-rich and film-buff-friendly. Starting off with the kids' stuff, first and most horrifying is the Virtual Wonderland Party, a mildly interactive collection of sub-Nick Jr. outtake-quality romps, riddles and games. It looks and feels every bit like the Disney World demonstrations with kids plucked right from the queue interacting with the summer stock. Also on the disappointing side is the Set-Top game, which is short as hell and not particularly hard, but probably a good fit for the younger viewers (that's right, kids, stay stupid as long as they'll let you get away with it!). Sing-alongs, a Mickey short, and a Cheshire Cat outtake round out the kids' disc. The grown-up collection is far more dense. There are a few vintage television programs, and thankfully, all the campy commercial product placements are left untouched. The programs include a one-hour special with Edgar Bergin and Charlie McCarthy (and Mortimer Snerd, that lovable product of three generations of inbreeding) dropping by for voice-over ingénue Kathryn Beaumont's birthday party, where a magic mirror grants everyone's fantasies.all of which happen to be viewing clips from old Disney films and shorts. Also included are behind-the-scenes material and a live-action truncated performance of Alice on the "Fred Waring Show." On top of that are myriad featurettes, art galleries and period introductions by Walt that would run before TV showings of the film (he keeps his lips shut on his true feelings for the film). It's hardly necessary after this chunky chock of supplemental features, but only the lack of a historical commentary track keeps this from being a totally definitive DVD edition.
Did we mention that Carol Channing's performance in Irwin Allen miniseries Through the Looking Glass is one of the three or four greatest performances ever caught on film?