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.

Walt Disney (1950)

Have faith in your dreams.

Cinderella is an American animated musical fantasy film from 1950 by Walt Disney and RKO Radio Pictures. It’s based on the fairytale of the same name by Charles Perrault and is the 12th Disney animated feature film. The film was directed by Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson. Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman wrote the songs, which include Cinderella, A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes, Sing Sweet Nightingale, The Work Song, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, and So This is Love. It features the voices of Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Rhoda Williams, James MacDonald, Luis van Rooten, Don Barclay, Mike Douglas, William Phipps, and Lucille Bliss.

After Fantasia, Pinocchio, and Bambi all bombed in the box office, Cinderella was the greatest success since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Dumbo and helped the studio through their financial burdens.

In 1948, actors were filmed on large sound stages mouthing to a playback of the dialogue soundtrack. Disney had previously used live-action reference on Snow White and the Seven DwarfsPinocchio, and Fantasia, but as part of an effort to keep the production cost down, the footage was used to check the plot, timing, and movement of the characters before animating it. The footage was then edited frame-by-frame onto large Photostat sheets to duplicate, in which the animators found too restrictive as they were not allowed to imagine anything that the live actors did not present since that kind of experimentation might necessitate changes and cost more money. Additionally, the animators were instructed to draw from a certain directorial perspective to avoid difficult shots and angles. Frank Thomas explained, “Anytime you’d think of another way of staging the scene, they’d say: ‘We can’t get the camera up there’! Well, you could get the animation camera up there! So you had to go with what worked well in live action.”

Walt Disney hired actress Helene Stanley to perform the live-action reference for Cinderella. Animators modeled Prince Charming on actor Jeffrey Stone, who also provided some additional voices for the film. Mary Alice O’Connor served as the live-action reference for the Fairy Godmother.

From Rags to Riches: The Making of Cinderella

By 1950, the Animation Board had settled down to nine supervising animators. Although they were still in their thirties, they were jokingly referred by Walt Disney as the “Nine Old Men” after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s denigration of the Supreme Court. Including Norman Ferguson, the principal animators included Les Clark, Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Frank Thomas, and Wolfgang Reitherman.

Larson was the first to animate the title character whom he envisioned as a sixteen-year-old with braids and a pug nose. Marc Davis later animated Cinderella, in which Larson observed as “more the exotic dame” with a long swanlike neck. Because the final character design was not set, assistant animators were responsible for minimizing the differences. When Disney was asked what was his favorite piece of animation was, he answered, “I guess it would have to be where Cinderella gets her ballroom gown”, which was animated by Davis.

Milt Kahl was the directing animator of the Fairy Godmother, the King, and the Grand Duke. Originally, Disney intended for the Fairy Godmother to be a tall, regal character as he viewed fairies as tall, motherly figures, but Milt Kahl disagreed with this characterization. Following the casting of Verna Felton, Kahl managed to convince Disney on his undignified concept of the Fairy Godmother.

Unlike the human characters, the animal characters were animated without live-action reference. During production, none of Kimball’s designs for Lucifer had pleased Disney. After visiting Kimball’s steam train at his home, Disney saw his calico cat and remarked, “Hey—there’s your model for Lucifer”. Reitherman animated the sequence in which Jaq and Gus laboriously drag the key up the flight of stairs to Cinderella.