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).
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