The story of young Alice (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont), who follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland, a most curious place indeed, and one in which she might just lose her head, if not careful.
Although I prefer “Pinocchio”, “Peter Pan”, “Robin Hood”, and “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, this 1951 Disney animated version of the infamous and enduring Lewis Carroll classic is highly enjoyable stuff. This is what Disney animation does best, not crap like “Fantasia” or “Treasure Planet”. Classic stories well told.
I liked the Tim Burton version from 2010, but if you’re gonna skip the book and watch the film (Don’t!), make it this one. This one hits all the main beats of the story, and the scenes with an oversized Alice are particularly fun, and probably a challenge at the time from an animation standpoint. I actually think the story works better than the animation here, though the latter is fine. It’s a very pretty and colourful film. It’s a cracker of a story to begin with, and although being Disney means it’s probably a tad less weird than other versions, the story hasn’t been ruined or anything, at least not the important bits (Carroll purists will complain that the film is a hodgepodge of the two Alice stories, instead of just the first one, though).
It’s a shame about the awful singing (Kathryn Beaumont in particular can’t hold a tune at all, though otherwise terrific), but even that fails to get in the way of the fun here. In fact, poor singing or not, the tunes themselves are positively infectious…possibly earworm like. There’s lots of wonderful characters here, even down to the cute talking flowers. What can I say, I love pansies OK? What? What did I say? The caterpillar voiced by Richard Haydn is possibly the trippiest thing in the film, and quite memorable. Weird as hell, but memorable. I swear this story is about drugs, man…opiates specifically. It has to be. The Mad Hatter’s tea party is quite possibly the most insane thing in a very insane story. I mean, this is a story where we get a bird with a body made out of a birdcage that houses another bird.
But far and away the most memorable characters are the White Rabbit (voiced by the inimitable Bill Thompson), The Mad Hatter (voiced by an insane Ed Wynn, a million miles from “The Diary of Anne Frank”) and The Cheshire Cat (voiced by none other than Winnie the Pooh, Sterling Holloway), who easily runs off with the whole film. When I think of the Cheshire Cat, it’s this version of the character I think of, and boy is he tripping balls. Also unforgettable for me are the army of playing cards. I just love that idea, wonderfully realised on-screen here.
Yes, it works better for kids than adults, but that’s the way it was once upon a time. Animators weren’t often concerned with pandering to adults in their children’s fare back then. When Disney tried to appeal to adults, we got “Fantasia” and “Fantasia” fucking sucks, OK? The film was directed by the trio of Clyde Geronimi (“Cinderella”, “Lady and the Tramp”), Wilfred Jackson (“Peter Pan”), and Hamilton Luske (“Pinocchio”, “Peter Pan”). It was scripted by a slew of writers from various Disney animated films, too many to list without seeming like a pretentious know-it-all.