Search For Treasures

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Defense of Disney's "Alice in Wonderland"

I have heard many criticisms laid against Disney's Alice in Wonderland by many critics, especially animation historians and critics. As some have read in one of my earlier posts, I feel that Alice is one of Disney's greatest triumphs. I shall do my best to defend my opinion.

Criticism #1: Alice is an unsympathetic character and lacks the heart of Snow White or Cinderella

Response: I find Alice to actually to be a bit more sympathetic than the other two Disney heroines. For one thing, Alice is a bit more realistic in her personality. She has her flaws, like how her curiosity overcomes her common sense, or her short temper. This allows her to participate in the story, not just fulfill the a story point. This is what I felt was one of the biggest weaknesses of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White was not a believable, or interesting, character, just a plot device to allow the story to move along. It is my opinion that if you got rid of Snow White and her Prince, you would have a much better movie. In Alice, the title character adds to the film. She is the counterbalance to all of the insanity, and she will often get herself into trouble, such as towards the end when she insulted the Queen of Hearts without being aware that she was shrinking. Alice's inattentiveness to her surroundings puts her danger, her own personality flaws, not that of her wicked stepmother (ooga-booga) or of the other characters.

Criticism #2: Alice in Wonderland is too episodic, it has no real plot to speak of.

Response: I think I'll let Wikipedia answer this one: "Disney's final version of Alice in Wonderland followed in the traditions of his feature films like Fantasia and The Three Caballeros in that Walt Disney intended for the visuals and the music to be the chief source of entertainment, as opposed to a tightly-constructed narrative like Snow White or Cinderella. Indeed, Lewis Carroll's Alice books have no real plot to speak of, and because of the literary complexity of Carroll's work, they are essentially unfilmable. Instead of trying to produce an animated "staged reading" of Carroll's books, Disney chose to focus on their whimsy and fantasy, using Carroll's prose as a beginning, not as an end unto itself."

Criticism #3: The film version contains none of Lewis Carroll's satire

Response: Most of the humor and satire comes from the narrative, not the characters themselves. Now, I'm pretty sure a narrator constantly relating all the events to the audience would be quite annoying after a short while. However, you can find pieces of satire in the film. First off, look at the scenes with the Dodo and Bill the Lizard. It can be as a semi-biting comment on how the aristocracy takes advantage of the working man. However, the shining example is the court scene at the end of the film. What was probably a sardonic take on the Victorian justice system takes on a whole new meaning in the early nineteen-fifties. I don't think I need to say anymore.

That's about all I got. If anyone would like to discuss, just drop me a line.

Until next time


Mr. Semaj said...

The more I think about it, the critiques against Alice in Wonderland doesn't come from the film itself, but from the controversy of a maverick Disney film.

Let's face it, even in the most conventional Disney films, they took a lot of liberties from their original source material. Pinocchio was criticized by Collodi's nephew on its debut for making the title character too American. Peter Pan broke many traditions from its playwright origins. Alice in Wonderland, already different from any type of literature Disney and its audience were accustomed to, was no exception. But a lot of what the film was once criticized for actually turned out to be its strongest assets.

In terms of creating an independent, fully-functional heroine, Disney doesn't mention much past their Renaissance films (or The Black Cauldron, depending on who you ask). But Alice marked their very first attempt to make an independent heroine. They even advertised it in the first Alice trailers comparing it to Snow White and Cinderella. The only real villain that has to be defeated in Alice in Wonderland is her overactive imagination.

I use the "maverick" argument whenever I discuss Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor's New Groove, because those films kept Disney animation afloat at a time when Disney's more conventional films were bringing fatigue to their brand. Sometimes, it helps doing something different to discourage monotony in your repertoire. But somehow, Walt and his team never realized that. (People like Milt Kahl and Bill Peet may have had a clue, but they didn't have the clout to give everyone that inner confidence.)

Alice in Wonderland was a maverick film that, like Fantasia, went unappreciated on its debut, making it another Disney film that was truly ahead of its time.

joe bloke said...

i've always been rather partial to Alice in Wonderland. having been a bit of an Alice-geek for most of my life, i was pleasantly suprised when i first saw the film ( which wasn't until i was in my twenties ). the character of Alice herself feels in line with the Alice in the original book, on the whole quite an unpleasant child all 'round, and most of the book's barbs and snipes are all there in the film to be seen, you only have to pay attention. the film works in much the same way as the book, in that it's perfect for children but can be enjoyed on many other levels by adults, too. my only real ( minor) quibble with the film was the inclusion of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, but Disney aren't the only film-maker's guilty of this, so i guess i'll let that one slide. in all, Weirdo, chum, i concur. Disney's Alice was a pretty cracking little feature, and is much under-appreciated.

Mike Caracappa said...

Great post. Alice is definetly one of my favorite Disney films as well. Personally, I do think it has problems in terms of her development as a character. She actually has the same problem that you cited with Snow White in that she is more a vehicle for the audience to go along with on the journey. You feel through her when she has all of her experiences, but the film isn't really about her. It's about this place she's in. When they were making Snow White, doing that was actually the smartest choice to go with because at the time they were still having difficulty drawing and animating believable humans. To make a character like her the center of attention for an entire picture would probably have been difficult and awkward. But if you got rid of her, the queen, and the prince, you wouldn't have much empathy for the dwarfs. Especially since they care about her and want her to be happy. And we wouldn't have the great funeral sequence at the end of the film, where Walt actually got people to cry for an animated cartoon character. Getting back to Alice though, that was made almost 15 years after Snow White. I think at that point audiences kind of wanted the main characters to start having a life of their own, not just be a plot element to get us from one scene to another. The problem with Alice is that she doesn't really change after her experience. We're pretty much along for the ride with her, and then the film is over. Even Dorathy gained something after her whole trip through Oz. Or (and this was made decades later) Labyrinth, for example, she still makes friends who are there to help her. But here, she's given no companions or friends to go along with, and she's all alone in this crazy place. The experience itself is almost like a cruel joke and I don't think it was fair towards her character. I agree with some of the old timers who said it might have been better if she had her cat along with her. It's not that she's totally unsympathetic, she just doesn't really have much of a choice.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents. Great blog btw.


Anonymous said...

Oh.. i love alice! is one of my favorite disney movies.. =)
if you can read should look around my blog.. I recently analized two disney movies ..

Andrew said...

Just happened to stumble upon this post, and I have to say, I agree with you wholeheartedly! "Alice" has always been one of my favorite Disney movies, and have never truly understood the harsh criticisms it seems to receive from some.