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A Second Look: Alice in Wonderland (1951)
In 1951, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske released Alice in Wonderland, based on the Alice books by Lewis Carroll. Starring Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Jerry Colonna, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Verna Felton, J. Pat O’Malley, Bill Thompson, Heather Angel, Joseph Kearns, Larry Grey, Queenie Leonard, Dink Trout, Doris Lloyd, Jimmy MacDonald, The Mellomen, Don Barclay, Mel Blanc, and Pinto Colvig, the film grossed $2.4 million at the box office. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, there was a live-action adaptation by the same name in 2010 directed by Tim Burton, which starred Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp.
After being chastised for daydreaming, 12 year old Alice tells her kitten, Dinah that her world is one where daydreaming is welcomed. Soon, she spots a white rabbit passing by exclaiming that he’s late. Alice chases and follows him into a large rabbit hole, where she gains entrance to Wonderland. Now, Alice must find her way home through all the madness.
Though it didn’t do too well at the box office, Alice in Wonderland is still a very entertaining film that also doubles as an engaging character study on what happens when taking someone rational and sane and dropping them into a world where things like sanity and the laws of physics don’t apply. While Alice starts off the film enjoying daydreaming and grumbling about being chastised for her head being elsewhere, the film drops her into this place of madness where she ends up becoming so frustrated with the blatant lack of logic and seriousness that all its denizens display. Though at first she finds everything curious, due to the childlike wonder she’s exhibiting towards all the weirdness, but the wonder turns into said frustration, which in turn becomes despair that she’s never going to find her way home coupled with how everyone she’s met during her stay ends up chasing her at the end. Though the ending where it turns out that Alice was just dreaming may seem like a copout at first, it makes sense in the context due to the film seemingly trying to show that there’s a time and place for daydreaming and fantasy, but residing in such a place is not wise for the rational.
Yet, Wonderland is the perfect residence for all its other characters since they seem to lack any sort of logic or understanding of rationality. Take the Queen of Hearts who seems to have an odd fascination with how she loses her temper and shouts for a beheading at trivial matters, such as someone respectfully disagreeing with them or trying to insert proper logic into a conversation. Then there’s the Mad Hatter who will react the exact opposite way a person should in every instance and claims that the White Rabbit is late because his watch is two days slow and decides to fix it by filling it with different foods and condiments. The Cheshire Cat is a notable character as well, seeing as he seems to be the only character who has any sort of understanding concerning Alice’s plight, but instead chooses to troll and antagonize her for his enjoyment, such as his delight in getting the Queen of Hearts so mad at Alice. While it’s not clear if he’s trying to directly antagonize Alice or the Queen, he succeeds in doing both and laughs about it. However, he does provide some interesting humor in his early appearances, where he doesn’t come off as that antagonistic, such as a visual pun where he asks Alice if she can stand on her head while he’s literally doing so.
The humor from the Cheshire Cat isn’t the only good humor present in the film though. This includes when the Dodo suggests that the White Rabbit set fire to his house to smoke Alice out so casually that he might as well be suggesting a place to eat. Humor also comes from the immediate fallout of the Mad Hatter attempting to fix the watch. It has a negative reaction and rings wildly, causing the March Hare to exclaim that it’s a Mad Watch and that the most obvious solution is to hit with a giant mallet. Alice also gets some good sarcasm early on, such as her scene with Tweedledee and Tweedledum. She tries to tell them that their story wasted her time by stating that it was sad and when they claim that there’s a moral, she sarcastically says that it’s true for an oyster.
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