For Reel

Alice in Wonderland (1951)
May 10, 2016, 7:02 pm
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Director(s): Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
3 Stars
Alice in WonderlandAlice in Wonderland offers almost none of what one would expect of a classical Disney film. Among other things, there is a lack of a firmly sympathetic protagonist (it would be impossible for an audience to identify with Alice as her offhand acceptance of her surroundings betrays one’s sense of wonder), a hugely impressionistic design scheme, and a structure that plays more like a “package” film than it does a narrative. For these reasons, it is not surprising that Walt Disney disowned the film, literally apologizing for what Lewis Carroll’s intricate work had turned into. And yet, if Alice in Wonderland is certainly among the most exhausting of the studio’s efforts, its very relentlessness does make for some oddball interest. That the film’s cult status is tied very much to drug culture feels almost inevitable—not only does the picture deal with the surreal, but it makes no attempt to ground the viewer into the world of the film. If other Disney entertainments wash over audiences with a sense of comfort, Alice in Wonderland has a more dizzying effect, alternating between grating (the Mad Hatter is as obnoxious as it gets) and slightly horrific (the Cheshire Cat still plays as a disturbing menace).

Alice in Wonderland (1933)
January 14, 2016, 9:53 pm
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Director: Norman Z. McLeod
4 Stars
Alice in WonderlandAs fascinating a failure as Hollywood ever produced, Alice in Wonderland was an ill-conceived adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved novels (this one drawing heavily from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). Boasting a cast of all stars–well, an assortment of familiar character actors joined by W.C. Fields, Gary Cooper, Jack Oakie, and a young Cary Grant–the film makes the bold choice of making nearly all of its players unrecognizable under prosthetics and grotesque costumes. Furthermore, it is undeniably horrific at times, including the frenzied climax that sees Alice (Charlotte Henry) throttled around the neck after she converses with her dinner. In the scene in which Alice confronts the Duchess and the pig baby, the woman is rendered with an abnormally large, potholed face, complete with a gaping mouth and tiny peering eyes. In her arms is a child that she hurls in the air, only it is not a child, but a dwarf actor. All this is to say that children might be less disturbed by Jan Švankmajer’s 1988 adaptation of the material. But, aside from the fascination of watching Alice in Wonderland for its parade of the grotesque, it is complemented with genuinely terrific set design by William Cameron Menzies, and the achievement of recreating the illustrations of the novel was an impressive one that yields some undoubtedly compelling results.