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Home Theater Movie Renter's Guide - April, 2010

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"Alice in Wonderland" (DVD) - Reviewed by Jim Milton

Alice in Wonderland

Synopsis

This disc contains rare footage from one of earliest know film adaptation of Charles Dodgson's work and some very early animation by Walt Disney that combines live actors and animation. Though the first three films are silent, they represent good examples of early film making, where a scene was set up and the cameras would just roll with the action. Close ups were rarely used.

 

Specifications

  • Infinity Studios
  • 2009, B/W, Rated G, 2 Hrs 2 min
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3
  • 480i
  • Codec:  Not Specified
  • English PCM Stereo
  • Starring: Viola Savoy and others
  • Directed by Walt Disney, W.W. Young, and others
Rating
  • Entertainment:
  • Video:
  • Audio:
  • Extras:
  • Violence: No
  • Sex: No
  • Language: No

Commentary

Every so often I come across some interesting vintage movies that have been restored or “re-discovered” from some musty old film vault. With the release of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”, I thought it would be fun to look at some rare clips of a story that has been around for over 100 years. You would be surprised how often this story has been adapted to film, both in live action and animation. Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) penned the story in 1865 titled “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by strange anthropomorphic creatures. The tale is filled with allusions to Dodgson's friends and a young girl named Alice Liddell. The tale plays with logic in ways that have given the story lasting popularity with adults as well as children. It is still considered to be one of the best examples of the "literary nonsense” genre. The story as interpreted by Burton bares little resemblance to original story line, but the film “Alice in Wonderland” (1915) is a much closer adaptation of what Dodgson had in mind. The silent version is about 52 minutes long and is accompanied with piano music for a backdrop. It includes the Mock Turtle and the room filled with tears from Alice’s crying. (The reference to the Caucus race will be lost on most of the modern viewers, I am afraid). Text is displayed throughout to keep you informed of the dialog.

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The costumes are remarkable for the time period and the film has a dream-like quality to it. It stars Viola Savoy as Alice and features Elmo Lincoln, who later played the original Tarzan. “Alice’s Adventures in Cartoonland” (1925), are two short vignettes produced by Walt Disney. “Alice Rattled by Rats” contains prototypes of a future Mickey Mouse and a cat that looks very similar to “Felix the Cat”.

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A live action Alice (Virginia Davis) is figured right into the cartoon. “Alice’s Adventure in the Jungle” is a cartoon with Margie Gay in the lead role. This mix of "live and toon" predates films like "Roger Rabbit"  by over 45 years! Very cutting edge for the time.

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Obviously, neither of these cartoons have any connection to  Carroll's Wonderland, but they are rare historical clips none the less. Perhaps having the name of Alice in their titles helped draw viewers into the movie house. “Alice of Wonderland in Paris” (1966) is voiced by Carl Reiner with French animation. And rounding out the DVD is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1972) from a British musical theatrical film adaptation starring none other than Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers. In summation, this DVD is significant for its rare archival footage and its wonderful insight on an ageless story. In the days before CGI, artistic imagination ruled the world of cinematography. If you are a movie buff or an Alice admirer, these treasures are worth adding to your collection.

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Now, Mr. Burton’s 3D adventure of Alice is more about vision than substance. His interpretation differs from the original storyline in many ways. I found the 3D to be generally flat. The scene where the Hatter is escaping through some trees left me a bit nauseous. Fast motion and 3D do not mix well. The 3D glasses made the screen images darker, too. When I peered over the top of the rims the movie was of course fuzzier, but also considerable brighter. Be sure to read more about the 3D technology in Cory Potts comparison of Dolby 3D and IMAX 3D.

Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum were downright creepy. Burton added a “white queen” to contrast with the “queen of hearts” (well acted by Mrs. Burton) and provide a vehicle for a good vs.evil sub plot . Mr. Depp mumbles so badly in his opening scene that I thought that the rest of the movie would be ruined by my inability to understand any of the dialog. Frankly, I did not find him “mad” enough. By the end of the movie he appears to be a more pathetic figure…but quite sane. Bizarre looking, but not mad. No trial for the knave who stole the tart. No walrus giving his “…of ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings” soliloquy. And the ending! Alice comes back to reality, says she will not marry and is promptly given the reins to the shipping company her father envisioned. It seemed to be tacked on without giving the movie any finality. Was there a point or message in this movie? Would children sit through it and become bored? (likely) Was it targeted for teens? (More likely)- CGI and 3D do not a story make. I still find the Disney cartoon version a far more entertaining and enjoyable ride. But then again…I may be mad. Until next time, I’m late for my tea party.

Technical

Picture quality varies from piece to piece, but is generally good considering the age of the archival footage.

Extras

None