Saturday, April 27, 2013

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Funny segments with plenty of nonsense
Cons: He's listing cons?  Off with his head!!!!
The Bottom Line:
Some funny nonsense
But episodic throughout
Can be disjointed

Curiosity Traps Alice in Wonderland

Despite all of Disney's fairytale movies, nonsense is not something I normally associate with them.  Yet that's exactly the case with Alice In Wonderland.  Of course, considering they took elements from two nonsense books by Lewis Carroll, is it any wonder?

One day while Alice (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont) is trying to pay attention to her lessons, she sees a White Rabbit (Bill Thompson) go by.  This is no ordinary White Rabbit, however.  He's looking at his pocket watch and worrying about being late.  Curious, Alice follows him only to fall down a hole and land in Wonderland.

And what sort of place is Wonderland?  It's a place where anything and everything can talk.  Besides the animals, we've got a talking doorknob.  Eating and drinking can make Alice grow and shrink.  As she tries to follow the White Rabbit and find out where he is going, she meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee (J. Pat O'Malley), joins an Unbirthday Party with the Mad Hatter (Ed Wynn) and the March Hare (Jerry Colonna), has a couple run ins with the Cheshire Cat (Sterling Holloway), gets lost in a strange wood, and has a play crochet with the Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton).  Will she ever get home?

This movie is pretty much a series of separate episodes held together by the White Rabbit's appearances and disappearances.  And that's perfectly in keeping with the book of the same name.  While it works well in the book (or at least I remember it working fine.  It's been years since I read it), it doesn't hold up quite as well here.  In fact, it gets downright repetitive at times.  I am often getting bored with things by the time we finally get to the Queen of Hearts.  Fortunately, from there on out, things really pick up and the movie becomes fun again.

There are plenty of fun moments in the film.  The Mad Tea Party is a personal favorite just because Ed Wynn and Jerry Colonna are just so funny together.  The Queen of Hearts is very over the top, but in a good way.  And some of the characters Alice meets in the woods show a great deal of imagination.

I had forgotten just how many songs there are in the movie.  Just about every episode includes a song of some kind.  Some are very short, but a few last several minutes.  Ironically, the best know are the shorter ones like "The Unbirthday Song" or "I'm Late."  I really love those, but I also enjoy "All in the Golden Afternoon."  The two Alice sings "In a World of My Own" and "Very Good Advice" are rather slow and add nothing to the movie, however.

There's no way to get around the fact that the animation is dated.  But what would you expect from a movie that's over 50 years old?  To my eye, it works well.  It's not splashy, but it doesn't have to be.

The voice cast does a good job.  The standout are the already mentioned Ed Wynn and Jerry Colonna as well as Verna Felton as the Queen of Hearts.  It would be hard to imagine anyone else yelling "Off with her head" so effectively.  While Kathryn Beaumont is okay as the speaking voice of Alice, her singing isn't the best.  It's passable, but it does nothing to make her two solos likable to me.

When I sat down to watch this movie again, I discovered I liked it much more than I remembered.  Kids especially will get a kick out of all the nonsense in Alice In Wonderland.  And since that's really the target age here, that's a very good thing.

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