Alice in Wonderland
A little girl named Alice falls down a hole while following a white rabbit and goes through a series of nonsensical, ridiculous adventures.
Yeah, that's a lot shorter than my usual plot summary paragraphs. But really, what else can you say about this movie? It's freaking nuts. I mean, the books are just bizarre so how could the movie not be as strange as it is? But trying to explain individual episodes just seems laborious, while mentioning them briefly would just be confusing. So I'll stick with 'a series of nonsensical, ridiculous adventures.'
Lewis Carroll's Alice stories were near and dear to Walt Disney's heart. He'd been wanting to make a full-length fim since the genesis of his animation studio; in the early years of his film career he made shorter, episodic films featuring a live action girl interacting with animated cartoon called Alice's Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland was proposed for the first film, and likely would have been Disney's debut had Paramount not released a live action film the year before. Instead, Disney gave the world Snow White. Time and time again Alice was suggested for future films, but lack of funds and WWII repeatedly kept it from production. It wasn't until the late 1940s that Walt could finally begin this pet project.
The animation clearly takes its visual cues from the original illustrations found in Carroll's book, but the linework is simplified and bright, bold color is infused in every cel. I'd say that the color used in Alice in Wonderland is what gives the film's its signature look, even more so the drawings themselves. They enhance character moods, and reveal intentions - purple, black and red for villains, blue for good characters - in a way that has since become pretty standard for Disney. (At least, the same colors are used again in Aladdin. Probably other movies.) Maybe it's just me, but I feel like the color is just better applied and managed in this movie. But then, maybe I'm just pleased with pretty images like this:
I just love how the shadow from the trees splashes over Alice, almost like a watercolor.
Of course, the characters are all memorable. When you consider how little screen time The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, and Tweedledum/Tweedledee get, it's almost amazing that we can keep track of them all. Yet I never get anyone confused, because they're all so wildly different. Clearly, the animators were challenging themselves to keep the animation fresh and different. I don't know if there were any major technology advances with this film, but when it comes to how characters move and interact, there's a lot of cool stuff going on. Every time the Cheshire Cat appears, for instance, it's different. He can be the moon smiling overhead or unspooling like a roll of ribbon.
As best I can remember, most of the songs seem to be taken directly from Lewis Carroll's books. No individual song struck me as very interesting, but when woven together and considered on a whole with the rest of the film, it works very well. The strangeness of the songs matches the atmosphere of Wonderland perfectly.
It's funny to think this movie was a box office failure when it was first released, but it was. It was also heavily criticized, especially by the British press, for the liberties it took with Carroll's stories. Yet today, it's probably one of the most fondly remembered Disney films. Maybe some of this nostalgia is fueled by baby boomer parents recollecting drug-enhanced viewings, but whatever. It's a fun movie, and I enjoyed it way more than I liked films that followed Carroll's books more strictly.