Alice in Wonderland

Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske (1951)

Alice in Wonderland is a 1951 American animated musical fantasy comedy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the Alice books by Lewis Carroll. The thirteenth release of Disney’s animated features, the film premiered in London on July 26, 1951, and in New York City on July 28, 1951. The film features the voices of Kathryn Beaumont as Alice, Sterling Holloway as the Cheshire Cat, Verna Felton as the Queen of Hearts, and Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter. Walt Disney first tried to adapt Alice into a feature-length animated film in the 1930s and revived the idea in the 1940s. The film was originally intended to be a live-action/animated film; however, Disney decided to make it a fully animated film in 1946.

The film was considered a disappointment on its initial release, therefore was shown on television as one of the first episodes of Disneyland. Its 1974 re-release in theaters proved to be much more successful, leading to subsequent re-releases, merchandising and home video releases. Although the film received generally negative critical reviews on its initial release, it has been more positively reviewed over the years.

In fall 1945, shortly after the war ended, Disney revived Alice in Wonderland and hired British author Aldous Huxley to re-write the script. Huxley devised a story in which Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell (the inspiration for Alice) were misunderstood and persecuted following the book’s publication. In Huxley’s story, stage actress Ellen Terry was sympathetic to both Carroll and Liddell, and Queen Victoria served as the deus ex machina, validating Carroll due to her appreciation for the book. Disney considered child actress Margaret O’Brien for the title role. However, he felt that Huxley’s version was too literal an adaptation of Carroll’s book. Background artist Mary Blair submitted some concept drawings for Alice in Wonderland. Blair’s paintings moved away from Tenniel’s detailed illustrations by taking a modernist stance, using bold and unreal colors. Walt liked Blair’s designs, and the script was re-written to focus on comedy, music, and the whimsical side of Carroll’s books.

Around this time, Disney considered making a live-action-and-animated version of Alice in Wonderland (similar to his short Alice Comedies) that would star Ginger Rogers and would utilize the recently developed sodium vapor process. Lisa Davis (who later voiced Anita Radcliffe in One Hundred and One Dalmatians) and Luana Patten were also considered for the role of Alice. However, Disney soon realized that he could only do justice to the book by making an all-animated feature and, in 1946, work began on Alice in Wonderland. With the film tentatively scheduled for release in 1950, animation crews on Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella effectively competed against each other to see which film would finish first. By early 1948, Cinderella had progressed further than Alice in Wonderland.

A legal dispute with Dallas Bower’s 1949 film version was also under way. Disney sued to prevent release of the British version in the U.S., and the case was extensively covered in Time magazine. The company that released the British version accused Disney of trying to exploit their film by releasing its version at virtually the same time.

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