So after the bonkers success of Cinderella, it was time for Walt to return to his two favorite pastimes: Fulfilling his lifelong goals and making unprofitable movies. See, Walt had always loved the Alice stories of Lewis Carroll. His early work in Hollywood included a series of silent live action-animation hybrids dubbed “The Alice Comedies”, which took inspiration from the books. In the mid-30s, he had intended to produce a full-length Technicolor version of those, going so far as to do screen tests with Mary Pickford as Alice. So why did they settle on Snow White instead? Why did he spend 12 years developing Alice before it finally saw release? Well, the books are essentially unfilmable. They’re meandering, mostly plotless, unashamedly weird works based on logic puzzles and literary wordplay, and the main character has absolutely no arc or dramatic through line. But ol’ Uncle Walter was convinced he could make it work. Wary? So am I. So eat and drink anything that suggests that you do, and let’s talk about Alice in Wonderland.
Okay, this is the post were I get in trouble with my roommate, who I believe counts this as her absolute favorite movie for ever and ever for all time infinity. First of all, let me say that in regards to the essential unfilmability of the books, you can read this entry on my mostly-disused general purposes blog. (Warning: My language tends to run a mite saucier on the other page.) The upshot is this: Film is different than literature, and has different needs. A book which consists almost entirely of one unconnected scene after another will not necessarily adapt to film well without a lot of work. And that work is not in evidence here.
|Why, they hadn't even finished the sets before they started filming.|
This movie technically has more songs in it than any other Disney film, but that ‘technically’ comes with a big ol’ asterisk. Plenty of them are only a few lines long, or sung in the background. And those are, of course (I swear I’m not trying to keep harping on this,) the ones that are taken from Lewis Carroll poems. The Cheshire Cat sings the first verse of “Jabberwocky” over and over with no context or conclusion. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum sing the first two verses of the eight-verse “Father William” in the background as Alice walks away. Of the Carroll-inspired numbers, only “The Walrus and the Carpenter makes it through relatively unscathed, and even then it’s broken up with poor delivery, lousy pacing, and added non-poetic dialogue, just as “Casey at the Bat” was. The non-Carroll-based songs, on the other hand, are not even worth mentioning.
|Good gravy, these two are annoying. And they get three songs.|
I’m not saying this is a bad film; It’s not. There’s plenty of good times to be had. And I’m not trying to say that it should have been more like the book. It couldn’t have been. Trying to adapt this book is a fruitless endeavor. There’s a book called “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman” that has often been called unfilmable. The only way a movie ever got made was a fake documentary about people trying and failing to make a movie of it. Maybe that’s what Alice needs. I don’t know. All I know is this left me cold. I didn’t dislike it as such, I just kept getting bored.
|In unrelated news, I would love a pair of striped footy pajamas. Make it happen, internet!|
* Mary Pickford was 40 when she did those screen tests, by the way.
* Also on my general blog: Here’s where I discuss “alternative” versions of Alice, and here‘s where I led into it by talking about the Tim Burton version. I never did finish the series, because the Burton version turned out to be a sequel rather than an adaptation, as we had been led at the time to believe, and thus didn't really fit the form. Review: It was okay?
|Oh yeah, and Alice abuses a lot of birds in this movie. That was a little weird.|
* There is one non-Carroll derived song worth mentioning, and that is the title song, carrying on the bold tradition of being played over the opening credits and being horrible. The reason this is worth mentioning is that it is both the last of these title songs, and by far the worst. So... good for them?
* This film did eventually make its money back on rerelease, as have so many of the films we've discussed here. This particular release was a long time coming, due to the disappointing performance of the initial run, and didn't make it back to theaters until 1974. Now, I'm not going to imply it had anything to do with any 70s recreational habit of ingesting certain substances and going to the movies, but look at this actual official poster and tell me what you think the Disney marketing people thought.
|Screenplay by Jack Nicholson.|