If there is one thing I love about the Disney Studios of the 1950s, it is their knack for releasing quality films that endure and are loved by generations. Cinderella gave them the kickstart they needed after the end of the Second World War and transformed the studios into what we know today – a multimedia enterprise focused on wholesome family entertainment.
However, Cinderella has had its time in the Disney Library Spotlight. Jump forward a year from 1950 to 1951 and it is the turn of Alice in Wonderland, another story that Walt Disney was adamant about adapting.
Whether we have read Lewis Carroll’s original literary classic or not, Alice in Wonderland is a story we all know. It’s ingrained in society and popular culture, and it is one story all of us – whether we’re readers, critics, film analysts etc – want to pick apart. It doesn’t matter if we believe that the wackiness behind the story is inspired by hallucinogenic drugs, that Lewis Carroll was sexually obsessed with Alice Liddell (the young girl who inspired Alice), or that Wonderland is a political allegory. We bask in its whimsy, its childhood innocence and imagination and simply enjoy Alice’s journey.
I personally love Alice in Wonderland though it is by no means a favourite. It is one film and story I have become engrossed in since childhood and I sometimes found myself identifying with Alice. She’s curious about her surroundings, questioning what is, and trying to make sense of everything. We’ve all done that and I did it a lot as a child, sometimes I still do. When I think about this, I can’t help being reminded of a quote from Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare:
There’s plenty of sense in nonsense sometimes if we wish to look for it.
This is Alice and us as a wider audience to a T.
We all want to make sense of Wonderland. Like I said above, we want to uncover it layer by layer until we find whatever it is that makes this story and film so popular and loved.
As a film, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is arguably the most popular adaptation to date, yet it wasn’t loved by any of its producers or animators. Walt Disney hated it and he blamed its initial box office failings on Alice’s “lack of heart.” Other reasons are that it didn’t capture the atmosphere of the original novel and possess the quintessential Disney touch. Nowadays it is a huge cult classic and considered to be some of Disney’s finest work.
What helps it to stand out is Mary Blair’s design and artwork. Her modern and colourful style is perfect for the whimsical and imaginative world that Carroll created. In fact, it is a match made in heaven.
Its popularity today goes beyond the artwork, the nonsense characters, and the continuing success of the original novel. The Disney studios might not have liked it at the time, but I believe they’re the ones who have pushed it further into our own consciousness with its representation and presence in the Disney parks. Disneyland Paris, for example, has a huge part of Fantasyland dedicated to Alice in Wonderland!
There’s Alice’s Curious Labyrinth and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups. Characters such as the Cheshire Cat, The Mad Hatter, Alice, and even the Queen of Hearts have regular meet and greets near the entrance to It’s A Small World. They’re also really fun characters to be around in the park, especially Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Their interactions with guests and other characters put a smile on your face and remind you of how special Disney magic can be. They’re also popular in the parades, the most notable being the Once Upon A Dream Parade where we had an entire float dedicated to the film.
Whether Alice in Wonderland is one of our favourite films or not, we can’t deny its huge presence and popularity in society and popular culture.
So what do you think of Alice in Wonderland?
Have you tried to decipher its meaning?
Do you agree with Walt Disney’s original thoughts about it being the weakest film?
Thanks for reading and have a brazzle dazzle day!