ALICE IN WONDERLAND
DVD - Image A Sound B+ Extras A
BD - Image A- Sound A- Extras A+
story by Winston Hibler, Ted Sears, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Milt Banta, Bill Cottrell, Dick Kelsey, Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Del Connell, Tom Oreb, John Walbridge, based on Lewis Carroll's The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass
directed by Clyde Geronimi & Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
THE LION KING 1½
The Lion King 3: Hakuna Matata
*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
screenplay by Tom Rogers, Roger Allers and Irene Mecchi and Bill Steinkeller and Evan Spiliotopoulos
directed by Bradley Raymond
by Bill Chambers It's not like Alice in Wonderland is necessary and The Lion King 1½ isn't--they're both unnecessary. The two latest animated Disney films to hit DVD, they have little in common formally save that they're jointly inessential; and yet, because of their proximate release windows, parents are likely to pick them up as a pair, and kids are likely to associate them as such. Bright, sophisticated children may arrive at the hypothesis that this is the day that animation died.
Alice in Wonderland has had a habit of being the stopgap: the picture is so un-sacred that Walt Disney elected to inaugurate his Fifties TV series "Disneyland" with a shortened version of it. Later, after a 1974 reissue, it would be excused from rotation in the studio's theatrical re-release practice (their bread and butter throughout the pre-Katzenberg era), going straight to tape at the start of the VHS boom. (Dumbo suffered the same fate, but only, I think, because it was too short to qualify as a feature under new MPAA guidelines.) All of this is reflected in Alice in Wonderland's dwindling momentum--you can feel the production team losing first focus, then interest. It goes without saying that the film bit off more than it could chew in attempting to condense and consolidate Lewis Carroll's two "Alice" novels (...In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) into a 70-minute whole, but rather than stumble ambitiously like Fantasia or Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland approaches the task with a deadening literalmindedness. Listen to it carefully and you might just hear the sound of animators punching clocks.
The film was actually the end result of Disney's numerous attempts to launch an "Alice" project. Scrapping plans for a live-action version that would've predated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt commissioned a screenplay from Aldous Huxley--who ultimately either refused screen credit or was denied it, depending on the account--that, taking a cue from Song of the South (or anticipating it--the timeline is nothing if not fuzzy), imagined a cartoon with live-action bookends. Though one can easily link Huxley's affinity for Carroll's metaverse and fascination with mind-altering drugs (as in his book-length study The Doors of Perception), or impose a dystopian reading on the finished film that relates to Huxley's most famous work, Brave New World, the fact remains that the script for Alice in Wonderland--attributed to some 13 different people--expresses nothing if not fidelity to the source novels. Worth noting is that a remnant of the game plan for a hybrid of live-action/animation exists in the largely rotoscoped epilogue.
As straightforward eye candy, the film is a near miss; are the books so inspired as to defeat the artist? The animation is fluid, as one would expect, but the drawing style is too on the nose, with much of the character design--save that of the Cheshire Cat, whose hollow body of coiling ribbons is a remarkably unsettling sight--leaving subsequent adaptations, like Irwin Allen's pitiable 1985 miniseries, no room for revision. (As with Disney's template-setting Peter Pan, you'd think that Disney were the original author, not Carroll.) While Alice in Wonderland has a dark spirit in its favour, even on that level I prefer the video for Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More," in which Alice is transformed into a giant cake and consumed by guests of The Mad Hatter's tea party (something that speaks to food's sinful connotations throughout Carroll's writings), or the "Freddypillar" sequence from the recent Freddy Vs. Jason, which taps into the deeper malice of Carroll that Disney rarely summoned the wherewithal to touch upon.
A riff on Back to the Future Part II that finds us revisiting key scenes from The Lion King from the P.O.V. of meerkat and warthog sidekicks Timon (voice of Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella), respectively, The Lion King 1½ plays like The Lion King blindly sewn back together after multiple amputations--it would take the greatest of simpletons not to realize they'd been duped into purchasing The Lion King a second time. All that's missing is the presumably pricey vocal talents of Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, and James Earl Jones: the recycling is limited to shots without dialogue for scenes that featured those actors. Village laughingstock Timon accidentally destroys a meerkat tunnel with a "sunroof" modification and flees home to earn respect in a subplot borrowed from A Bug's Life; there's a gimmick lifted from The Muppet Movie whereby Timon and Pumbaa periodically pause The Lion King 1½ to comment on the action and the film's historical accuracy; and there's some stuff inserted about Simba's heretofore-unmentioned toilet-training phase for scatological measure. An unfunny violation of a veritable ATM for Disney, this is quite possibly the studio's most banal direct-to-video sequel to date--though surprisingly, the animation labours to live up to its pedigree. Originally published: February 9, 2004.
Alice in Wonderland and The Lion King 1½ land on DVD in THX-certified 2-disc sets. The former is presented in its original fullscreen 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the latter in an anamorphically windowboxed 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. They both look phenomenal, Alice in particular because of its age--it's the latest feature-length Disney cartoon to undergo the painstaking frame-by-frame computer touch-up, meaning you couldn't evaluate it under more ideal circumstances. The Lion King 1½ is predictably without flaw, although a tiny amount of edge enhancement intrudes on either DVD. As for audio, while Alice sounds a little canned in its Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, the alternative mono track is altogether unenthusiastic. The Lion King 1½ comes with DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks that undersell the rear channels but shake the room just the same. For what it's worth, our review copy of The Lion King 1½, a retail pull, defaulted to DTS.
Disc 1 of Alice in Wonderland includes the interactive "Virtual Tea Party" with two modes: Mad Hatter's Tea Party (manual) and White Rabbit's Shortcut (automatic). I sampled it long enough to figure out I would never understand its purpose. Additionally, there are sing-alongs for "The Unbirthday Song" and "All in the Golden Afternoon" plus the trivia challenge "Adventure in Wonderland," an approximation of a newly unearthed theme for the Cheshire Cat, "I'm Odd," performed--unless mine ears deceiveth me--by Jim Cummings, the company's current stand-in for Sterling Holloway, and the 1936 Mickey Mouse short Thru the Mirror (also available as part of the Walt Disney Treasures collection "Mickey Mouse in Living Color"), wherein Mickey falls asleep reading Through the Looking Glass and dreams of a room beyond his vanity mirror full of anthropomorphized furniture. Trailers for Home on the Range, The Lion King 1½, Brother Bear, Mary Poppins Special Edition, Mulan II, and Disney consumer products round out this first platter.
Kicking off Disc Two of Alice in Wonderland is the spellbinding artifact "One Hour in Wonderland", a 1950 television special used to promote the twin institutions of Disney and Coca-Cola. Opening with Santa Claus taking a break from unpacking Disney merchandise from his sack to chug a bottle of "wholesome goodness" (as Coke is described herein), the program then dissolves awkwardly to a steamed-up bathroom where puppet Mortimer Snerd is taking a shower (with his hat on, of course) and just outside of which ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and hand-buddy Charlie McCarthy are getting pretty for a tea party they've all been invited to by Walt himself. On the chaotic drive down, Bergen tells Charlie the story of Alice in Wonderland ("And then she saw a little caterpillar smoking a Turkish water pipe!"); once inside the Disney dwellings, Charlie proceeds to hit on 12-year-old Kathryn Beaumont (the voice of Alice), and Walt unveils his latest installation: a magic mirror that shows clips from Disney cartoons--and champions Coca-Cola! ("Where there's Coke, there's hospitality," the narrator intones as Walt wheels out oil drums of the stuff.) Although "One Hour in Wonderland" is in black-and-white, the excerpts retain their Technicolor origins and look shockingly good. Worth noting, too, is that embedded within this relic is a 10-minute slab of Song of the South (from the "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" number, natch, to the end of Br'er Rabbit's escape from Br'er Fox's lynch trap)--the closest the film may ever come to a legitimate DVD release.
Oddly labelled a "pilot" within the menu screens, the Fleischer-esque 1923 short An Alice Comedy: Alice's Wonderland (8 mins.) is an early experiment in integrating live-action and animated environments. "Chuck [sic] full of curiosity," a little girl in Mary Pickford regalia wanders into the Disney studio demanding to see "some funnies." She's so taken with Walt's private demonstration that she dreams that night of entering a two-dimensional realm where everything is hunky-dory until three lions give chase. In a nod to Lewis Carroll, the cliffhanger finish involves Alice falling down a hole. The imagery isn't quite loaded enough to taunt Freudian psychologists, but it does showcase Walt's nihilistic side. Next come Alice in Wonderland trailers from 1951 and 1974, Disney's identically-scripted intros for the film's 1954 (black-and-white) and '64 (colour) broadcasts, and the dull, vintage making-of featurette "Operation Wonderland" (11 mins.).
In "The Fred Waring Show (Excerpt)" (31 mins.), Beaumont, dressed as her cartoon alter ego, and Holloway, awkwardly poking his head through a cardboard cut-out of the Cheshire Cat, re-enact their characters' major scene together before the titular Waring, a sort of less square Lawrence Welk, conducts his orchestra to play selections from the film's score. The cut-rate pageantry of the sets and Waring's sycophantic intros (he thanks Walt profusely for whoring out Alice in Wonderland) combine to render this unwatchable for reasons besides the kinescope video quality. Now a retired schoolteacher, Beaumont explains in "From Wonderland to Never Land: The Evolution of a Song" (7 mins.) how a number written for Alice called "Beyond the Laughing Sky" became Peter Pan's "Second Star to the Right." (As the voice of Wendy Darling in the latter, she wound up singing both.) On that note, a deleted scene in storyboard form ("Alice Daydreams in the Park") and demos for the discarded songs "Beware the Jabberwock," "Everything Has a Useness," "So They Say," "Beautiful Soup," "Dream Caravan," and "If You'll Believe in Me" cap the second platter--as you can see, the filmmakers kept chiselling away at their vision. Enclosed in the dual-tray, single-width keepcase itself is a deck of cards for a game exclusive to this package.
Joining the main event on Disc 1 of The Lion King 1½ is the "Hidden Mickey Hunt," a viewing mode that, once activated, asks the viewer to locate the Mickey Mouse silhouettes buried subliminally within the film's animation. Creepy, huh? In addition, director Bradley Raymond and producer George Mendoza individually introduce seven deleted scenes (er, "abandoned concepts," as none contain so much as a scrap of finished footage), most of which were apparently discarded because they cluttered up the scenery. Previews for the Aladdin Special Edition, Home on the Range, Brother Bear, The Three Musketeers (starring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy), The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Mulan II, the Lion King 1½'s Gameboy tie-in, "Toon Disney Channel," and "Toontown Online" finish off the DVD. Disc 2 hosts the tiresome 4-minute mockumentary "Timon: Behind the Legend" (narrated, like A&E's "Biography", by Peter Graves himself), the snarky "Before the Beginning: The Making of The Lion King 1½", Raven's video for "Grazing in the Grass" (she's the former "Cosby Show" munchkin), and a section of Games & Activities: "Timon & Pumbaa's Virtual Safari," the Meredith Viera-moderated "Who Wants to be King of the Jungle," and the condescending match puzzle "Find the Face." ROM detritus rounds out the DVD proper.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Boasting the "supernatural potency"--to quote Bryant Frazer's review of Fantasia--of Disney's other animated fare on the Blu-ray format, Alice in Wonderland nevertheless sounded certain alarm bells for me. As this is neither a Diamond Edition nor a particularly beloved title (if it sells well on BD, it'll probably have the residue of last year's live-action version to thank), I can't imagine it was accorded the same tenderness as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Pinocchio, and to be sure, much of it looks blatantly repainted and digitally refined in the way that Disney's impressive but irreverent DVD transfers used to. The clearest evidence of that Blake-ian "infernal method" is in the sequence where the walrus eats the oysters (brushstrokes betray themselves in the way the colours of the character's massive frame are always slightly in flux), but this only lends it the odd sensation of having been overlooked in the restoration process. On the other hand, this is a dazzling presentation that chips away at one's anti-revisionist stance, with Mary Blair's production design making an impact that once seemed the exclusive domain of gallery viewings and big-screen revivals.
By the same token, the film induces an even bigger ice-cream headache than ever before, particularly when paired with the 5.1 DTS-HD MA "Disney Enhanced Home Theater remix," which, partly through the flagrant sweetening of some effects, admittedly breathes life into the dull original recording (also on board in DD 2.0 mono), but which aggravates the white-noise aspect of the piece by smothering the listener in whimsy from all directions. Note that the now-standard DisneyView option fills in the pillarbox bands on 16x9 displays for the length of the feature with Alice in Wonderland-themed artwork created expressly for this release by Michael Humphries. Note, too, that a horrible innovation begins and hopefully ends with this BD: During the closing credits of Alice in Wonderland, a recommendation to watch a specific supplement pops up, obscuring a large percentage of the screen; with television so bug-happy these days, I'd hate to see the trend carry over to home video.
This is virtually a direct port of the Masterpiece Edition DVD--and that's a good thing, as the "One Hour in Wonderland" TV special is such a curious artifact that it begs continued preservation (not to mention it contains a full-colour excerpt from Song of the South that's hard to see anywhere else)--with the exception of a few additions, chiefly "Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland" (75 mins., HD), a PiP mélange of video commentary and archival materials that begins with scholar Brian Sibley requesting that the misspelling of Carroll's name be corrected in the opening credits of Alice in Wonderland. (An invisible hand complies, though only in this context.) Numerous experts chime in, weaving a patchwork history of the film's two primary authors, Disney and Carroll; the tendency is to tiptoe around the picture's relative success by trotting out animators awed by its artistry (it is something to behold), but rather surprisingly, the darker implications of Carroll's friendship with the real-life inspiration for his heroine, seven-year-old Alice Liddell, are gingerly broached, while the various conspiracy theories that greeted their sudden parting are weighed against each other by the panel.
Really, this is the ideal way to watch Alice in Wonderland; after you've seen it a few times, it becomes wallpaper, anyway. Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Alice, introduces this extra as well as the newly-unearthed "Reference Footage: Alice and the Doorknob" (1 min., HD) and "Pencil Test: Alice Shrinks" (54s, HD), plus she provides brisk commentary for the former. (That's her on the Disney soundstage, modelling for the rotoscopers.) Capping, more or less, the new stuff: Walt Disney's own "Color TV Introduction" (1 min., HD) to a 1959 UK airing of Alice in Wonderland; the challenging "Painting the Roses Red Game"; and a startup block consisting of Winnie the Pooh and Bambi trailers, a Disney 3D Blu-ray spot, and a secondhand-smoking PSA. Promos for SpookyBuddies: The Curse of the Howlloween Hound, Tangled, The Incredibles, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Dumbo, and Disney Parks round out the platter. The new retail DVD release of the film is also packaged inside the keepcase.
- Alice in Wonderland
75 minutes; G; DVD: 1.33:1, BD: 1.33:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); DVD: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0 (Mono),French DD 2.0 (Mono), Spanish DD 2.0 (Mono), BD: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English DD 2.0 (Mono), French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1; DVD: English subtitles, BD: English, English SDH, French subtitles; CC (DVD); DVD: 2 DVD-9s, BD: BD-50 + DVD-9; Region One (DVD), Region-free (BD); Disney
- The Lion King 1½
77 minutes; G; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9 + DVD-5; Region One; Disney