Disney Film History: Alice In Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Cinderella was a smash hit and something that brought the studio back tons of money. It became one of Walt Disney’s most notable achievements during his lifetime and allowed him to have his own distribution company and have money for the eventual Disneyland project, but another film Walt was working on had been with him since his start in animation. Before moving to California, Disney owned his own animation company in Missouri called Laugh-O-Grams. The studio had moderate success, being able to run it’s shorts in local theaters, but the young Walt Disney was less of a business man and more of an ambitious boy which led to the eventual demise of Laugh-O-Grams. The final short, and most popular of his early work, was one with a live action girl being chased by cartoons in an animated world. When Walt made the eventual move to Los Angeles, he took the reel with him and was able to get a distribution deal for a series of the shorts focusing on the same subject matter. Margaret Winkler, Disney’s distributor, gave him the start that would lead him to great success along with his first series of shorts that ran in the mid-1920s based on Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Pass the Tea!

When coming to the decision to make a full length film in the early 1930s, Walt’s first idea was to make a live action/animated version of Carroll’s novel which would be comfortable since the shorts had been a success in previous years. but Paramount Pictures released a live action version of Wonderland in 1933 and Walt didn’t want to do the film after that. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a big success and several films were put into production including a possible Wonderland film, again with live action and animation, but the constant productions followed by the onset of World War II put a stop the the production yet again. It wasn’t until after the war in 1946 that the film as we know it started to be taken seriously and we would eventually get Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

Alice 2

Sterling Holloway as The Cheshire Cat

The film went through several designs and ideas. Like the Grimm fairytales, Carroll’s novels (Alice’s Adventures and Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were combined into one film.) were darker than Walt thought his audience would want. Disney decided to focus more on the whimsical stories and less on the darker stuff. This would eventually make purists of the novels upset, but Disney knew that it was an adaptation, not a direct telling. As far as the art style, Sir John Tenniel had done the original artwork for Carroll’s novel and it was definitively Wonderland. Many of the animators took a shot at their version but it wasn’t until Mary Blair brought her modern style to the mix that brought a life, whimsy, and a sense of an unreal world to Wonderland.

The film stars a cast of Disney voice talent regulars including Ed Wynn (Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins), Sterling Holloway (Flower in Bambi), and the future voice of Wendy in Peter Pan, Kathryn Beaumont. It was a film based around safe voice talent and quick turnaround. That’s why the films budget was only $3 million but even with that the film was still a gamble, especially with such a strange plot.

Music was also an important part of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Disney still wanted to keep Carroll’s poetry within the film so songs were written around the novelists words. 30 songs were written for the film, more than any other Disney film, and many of them made it into the film, even if they are just one verse instead of the whole song. The title song from the film has become a jazz standard and is quite popular among jazz bands.

The film was released in July 1951 to a luke warm reception despite years of development. Like previously stated, Carroll fans were also disappointed with the way the film turned out. The film only made back $2.4 million back. Wonderland was to become the first film to be shown on television as the second episode of the Disneyland tv show. The film later became a success in re-release in the 1960s and 70s. The film has now become a cult classic and is one of the most recognized Disney films and adaptations of the Carroll books. The film has spun off attractions at the Disney parks, a live action film, a television series on Disney Channel, and now a show on ABC. Wonderland and the characters within it’s world are so recognizable that they continue to be popular costumes during Halloween and some of the best characters to meet and greet at the parks.

What are your thoughts on Alice in Wonderland? Love it or hate it? Leave your opinion and keep the conversation going.

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: Treasure Island
Next Film: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men


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Posted on November 7, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. The first time i saw this movie i was 14 and i had a fever of 104. It was awesome!!! It was like being in my own waking malaria nightmare. Definitely one of my favorite animated movies.

  2. My 2nd favorite Disney Canon film!

  1. Pingback: Disney Film History: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men | Modern Mouse Radio

  2. Pingback: Disney Film History: Treasure Island | Modern Mouse Radio

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