Alice in Wonderland (1951)

I continue to be surprised by how many details of classic Disney movies I don’t remember.

I thought I had watched this film countless times as a child. Who knows, maybe I did.  I know that I read the first book at least, though admittedly I can’t remember when exactly.  Still, I was surprised by how many details of this movie I had forgotten.  There were entire scenes that, although they felt passingly familiar, I couldn’t recall for the life of me.  Is my memory failing or did I just not watch this movie as often as I once thought?

Although I may not have remembered every detail, that might not necessarily have been a bad thing.  I was once again able to approach a story I thought I knew very well with a fresh perspective.  I always worry that my adult eyes with find flaws in a film that I had previously enjoyed, and that the magic I felt as a child will have faded with time.

Thankfully, the exact opposite seems to be true with this film.

Truth be told, I didn’t absolutely love Alice in Wonderland when I was younger.  I liked it well enough, but as a kid it always bothered me that the whole thing was a dream.  It felt like a cheap ending that didn’t satisfy my desire for a well-rounded story.  The individual scenes were fun, but as a whole I just felt like something was lacking.

Viewing it as an adult, however, I’ve found I no longer feel this way.  Perhaps the film was simply over my head as a child, but I can know appreciate the subtle implications of the overall story, and the importance of having it all turn out to be a dream.

The individual vignettes that Alice inadvertently finds herself a part of are more mesmerizing than ever.  The level of absurdity seems to surpass what I had remembered, with each scene becoming more and more preposterous.

The tea party scene was always one I remembered, and is likely one of the most famous.  Its absurdist comedy amused me as a child, yet still continued to make me laugh as an adult.  The drunken doormouse, along with the nonsensical Mad Hatter and March Hare, created such a classic scene that I couldn’t help but wish I could be a part of such absurdity.

One of my favorite scenes has always been (and remains) the scene in which Alice tracks the white rabbit to his house, where she inadvertently consumes another magic cookie (seriously, the drug references in this movie ABOUND) and multiplies in size until she is as big as the house.

This scene always stood out to me as particularly funny, but I was happy to note as I watched that new details began to emerge as entertaining as well.  Specifically, the white rabbit and his unwavering desire to be on time.

Look at his annoyed little squishy face.

Somehow the rabbit doesn’t realize that Alice is not, in fact, his supposed assistant or maid Maryanne, and abruptly begins ordering her about.  He is consistently set on ensuring that he is not late for his “very important date”, and spends the entire movie rushing from one spot to the next.  He is the only character in Wonderland who doesn’t exhibit the same sort of all-consuming zaniness as the rest.  He is neurotic to be sure, but he is far less nonsensical than most characters. He is the one logical adult in a world full of childish chaos, the beacon of order and punctuality in a land in which time and responsibility have no place.  He likely symbolizes the adult world from which Alice seeks to escape; a world that she nevertheless must pursue.  This reference was lost on me as a child, and makes me want to go back and reread the books.  I have a distinct feeling that while the stories seem random and harmlessly amusing as a child, they likely have a deeper hidden meaning, if one only bothers to look for it.

Alice in Wonderland continues Disney’s run of classic children’s stories adapted for the screen, and therein seems to be the studio’s top skill.  Disney managed to create a story that was completely illogical while still maintaining a deeper subtext, making it far more thought-provoking for an adult viewer than I ever would have imagined.  Their adaptation of Carroll’s original stories was superbly done, and brings back a nostalgia for these characters that I had not anticipated.  I may just even run out and buy a copy of Carroll’s books, so that I can delve deeper into the wonderful, wacky world of Wonderland.

-Jess

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