In all of Disney’s work, the one film that is most likely to replicate a bad acid trip is 1951’s Alice In Wonderland. Not that I’ve ever experienced an acid trip, bad or otherwise, but it almost perfectly represents what one might expect of such an event taking place. One weird situation takes place after another, starting with Alice finding her way into Wonderland and having to choose between a Drink Me/Eat Me combo that puts fast food restaurants to shame. From there she meets the grinning Cheshire Cat, a smoking caterpillar, Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, The Mad Hatter and, of course, the Queen of Hearts. It’s more a series of vignettes than an overarching narrative.
It also happens to be a thoroughly enjoyable romp through Wonderland as Alice encounters each of these characters, amongst others. It’s a story that travels along at quite an impressive pace and despite never progressing beyond its basic premise of watching Alice traverse from Point A to Point B, it still does its job admirably. Besides which, it’s not really about the story but it’s the journey, a potent metaphor for the journey we all go on when growing up and finding our place in the world. Alice is a clear outsider in Wonderland and, potentially, back in the real world too, and yet she still manages to find a place for herself before returning home, finding a sense of purpose amongst the madness. Was it all just the dream of an imaginative privileged girl? In many respects it doesn’t matter. There’s something for everyone to take away whether you are five or fifty five.
It goes without saying that the animation is sublime, the voice work is impressive, and it’s occasionally difficult to believe that such a high quality piece of work was made so long ago. Watching the Blu-Ray edition, if you ignore the non-widescreen presentation you would almost think that it had been made quite recently. It’s a testament to the creativity and skill of the Disney studio animators that it can still look this impressive decades later. If only every studio went to such efforts to preserve their films, we would be far better off and wouldn’t have to complain about shoddy DVD transfers.
The morality tales offered are perfect for a younger audience. The angry Queen of Hearts has everything she could hope for and yet is punished, ultimately, for being so incredibly horrible to all those around her. Then there are the more subtle moments, such as the caterpillar becoming what in A Bug’s Life would be described as a beautiful butterfly. If you’re feeling ugly and cumbersome, you may still turn into an emotionally/physically balanced individual. And of course there is Alice’s journey which, as previously discussed, is rife with thematic concepts.
It’s safe to ignore Tim Burton’s moderately entertaining live action reboot/reimagining, even despite the epic presence of Alan Rickman in that film. This 1951 animated version does the job it needs to. It is, quite frankly, a work of art.