Alice in Wonderland review by Mike Long

Disney's animated films are often referred to as "timeless classics", usually by the Disney folks themselves. And, for the most part, this is true. Many of these movies have aged very well and their combination of gorgeous art and masterful storytelling have kept them fresh over the years. However, a select few, such as Sleeping Beauty , still look great, but lack a certain something which is needed to entertain today's audiences. The same can be said for Alice in Wonderland, which is being re-released on DVD in a new 2-disc "Masterpiece Edition".

Alice in Wonderland, which was released in 1951, is based on Lewis Carroll's famous books about the adventures of an imaginative young girl. Alice (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont), who finds her lessons very boring, notices a White Rabbit (voiced by Bill Thompson) running through a field and decides to chase it. She follows the Rabbit into a hole and falls into the bizarre world of Wonderland. From there, Alice meets many, many odd creatures, such as the Mad Hatter (voiced by Ed Wynn), the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Sterling Holloway), and the Queen of Hearts (voiced by Verna Felton), as she tries to find here way back home.

It's very easy to examine the pros and cons of Disney's Alice in Wonderland. The best part of the film are its sumptuous visuals. Photographed in Technicolor, the colors in the movie simply leap off the screen. The variety of colors is breathtaking, as is the detail of the characters and backgrounds. Today's audiences may not appreciate the fact that everything in the movie was done by hand. Along with the visuals, the character designs in the film are very creative, and some of the characters, such as the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and the Mad Hatter, have become part of our collective conscious.

The problem with the movie is the story, or lack thereof. Alice is lost in Wonderland and must find her way home. That's about it as far as any linear plot goes. The film is simply a series of vignettes in which Alice meets yet another odd character. If you've got the ADD real bad, then this may be the perfect movie for you, as you only have to pay attention for a few minutes. Otherwise, many viewers may long for a more cohesive plot and more character development -- Alice is about as one-dimensional as they come. And while every Disney movie seems to have its one scary character, Alice in Wonderland is full of creatures which will be potentially scary to younger viewers. Yes, Alice in Wonderland shows a great deal of imagination and it's nice to look at, but the absence of a plot hurts the film and makes it a challenge to watch.

This new Alice in Wonderland DVD hops onto DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. The film is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which was most likely its original framing. The image on the THX-certified disc is excellent. As noted above, the colors are fantastic and the image has a great deal of depth. There is some very slight grain and flickering at times, but overall, this transfer looks awesome, and doesn't show some of the defects which plagued the first DVD release. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is also a step up from the other DVD, which had a Dolby 5.0 track. This track provides clear dialogue and the music sounds fine. The surround sound and subwoofer effects are few and far between, but this new track is richer than the old one.

The 2-disc "Masterpiece Edition" of Alice in Wonderland is full of many, many extra features, but most of them will appeal only to Disney completists. Disc 1 starts off with the "Virtual Wonderland Party", a live-action feature which has Alice, the White Rabbit, The Mad Hatter, and three children. These folks participate in different games. It's a lot like watching Barney, and may appeal to younger viewers. There are 2 sing-alongs for the songs, "The Unbirthday Song" and "All in the Golden Afternoon", which are followed by "Adventures in Wonderland", a set-top trivia game. "I'm Odd" is a newly discovered song that was to be sung by The Cheshire Cat. Kathryn Beaumont introduces this 4-minute piece and explains that the sheet music was recently discovered and has been newly recorded. We are then treated to a music video of clips from the film accompanied by this song. Disc 1 concludes with a 9-minute Mickey Mouse short entitled, "Thru the Mirror", in which Mickey dreams that he goes through his mirror into an odd version of his room. The short is presented full-frame and the image is somewhat grainy.

Disc 2 features many things that were dragged from the Disney vaults. "One Hour in Wonderland" (60 minutes) from 1950, is the first Walt Disney TV show. (It was heavily sponsored by Coca-Cola.) This is a Christmas special hosted by Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. (You know who wasn't a very good ventriloquist?) Kathryn Beaumont from Alice in Wonderland is also in attendance, as Bergen and McCarthy go to Disney's Christmas party. The program is in black & white, but the clips from Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Song of the South(!), and two shorts are in color. "An Alice Comedy: Alice's Wonderland" is an 8 minute silent short from 1923 from a young Walt Disney. In it, a live-action girl visits an animation studio, where she sees cartoons in action. That night, she dreams of visiting a cartoon world. "Operation Wonderland" (11 minutes) is a black & white behind-the-scenes featurette in which Disney pays a visit to the artists making Alice in Wonderland. Also in black & white is a 31-minute excerpt from "The Fred Waring Show" (who?), in which the cast of Alice in Wonderland visits the show and acts out several scenes in live-action. The "Deleted Materials" section contains three sub-sections. "From Wonderland to Neverland: The Evolution of a Song" shows how one of the songs planned for Alice in Wonderland landed in Peter Pan. There is storyboard concept art from a planned open for the film. And, there are original demos for six songs that didn't make it into Alice in Wonderland. Finally, we have 2 original trailers for Alice in Wonderland, one from 1951 and the other for a 1974 re-release, and 2 introductions by Walt Disney for TV airings of Alice in Wonderland, one from 1954 and the other from 1964.

So, if you are a casual fan of Alice in Wonderland and have the previously released DVD, there's no real reason to upgrade, as the picture and sound are only slightly better here and some of the extras are repeated. If you are a true Disney fanatic, then this 2-disc set will be a dream come true.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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