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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Alice in Wonderland

January 31st, 2011

Alice in Wonderland - Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack - Buy from Amazon

Alice in Wonderland was the thirteenth animated film made by Walt Disney, but thirteen turned out to be an unlucky number, as the film was not a critical or a commercial success when it was first released. Now 60 years later, has it aged into a classic, or were the original critics right?

The Movie

Describing the plot of this movie is nearly impossible, and mostly unnecessary. That said... things start in England, in the countryside, where Alice is being taught English history, but not paying much attention to it. She's much rather play with her cat Dinah. While the two of them are playing by the creek, Dinah spots a white rabbit in a waistcoat and carrying an oversized pocket watch. The pair follow him to a rabbit hole, only to have Alice fall in. Once she lands, and gets past a locked door, she finds herself in Wonderland, which is a wondrous place, but less in the "impressive" sense of the word and more in the "I wonder what's going on" way. She meets strange twins, an even stranger tea party, a disappearing cat, and the Red Queen, all while trying to get back home.

That's pretty much it for the plot. Certainly all you can talk about without getting into specific scenes and that leaves you open to way too many spoilers, so I'll stop there. Besides, talking about the plot is kind of pointless, as it's less of a coherent plot than it is a series of very strange encounters Alice has to deal with while trying to get back home. Some of these are very engaging (the tea party, her dealings with the Cheshire Cat, the croquet match and subsequent trial at the hands of the Red Queen) others less so (most scenes with the Dodo). Some work on their own, but as part of the overall movie, they hurt its pace (unfortunately, this includes many of the songs). Finally, the the relentless nonsensical nature of the film does make is drag at times. Don't get me wrong, the positives outweigh the negatives by a large amount and I think it is a great movie, but not in the top ten Disney animated films. Is it in the top twenty? That depends on whether or not you include Pixar films in that mix, or just the "Classics".

The Extras

Most of the extras have been ported over from previous DVD releases, but there have been so many releases that it is hard to keep track, so I'm relying on the section called Classic DVD Bonus Features to tell what was ported over. Reflections on Alice is a 13 minute retrospective on the history of the film, right from the origins of the original novel to the various early attempts to adapt it for the screen. Operation Wonderland is an 11-minute behind-the-scenes look at the animation process. "I'm Odd" is a deleted song, which was recorded for the 2004 DVD release. Thru the Mirror is a Mickey Mouse short that was obviously inspired by the Alice novels and is quite famous in its own right. One Hour in "Wonderland" is a TV special that was broadcast for promotional purposes before film came out. Alice's Wonderland is an 8-minute long silent film about Alice watching the animators work and then that night dreaming about entering Cartoonland. Several deleted / alternate scenes are included on the Blu-ray. Finally, there are many promotional materials like trailers, galleries, etc.

New extras include a short clip of reference material used by animators with an intro and optional commentary by Kathryn Beaumont, who of course provided the voice for Alice, but also acted out the scenes in these films. There are pencil tests of the "Alice Shrinks" scene, again with an intro by Kathryn Beaumont. Through the Keyhole is the most important new extra. It's a picture-in-picture track filled with historians, animators, etc. talking about every aspect of the film's creation, from the origins of the novel and onward. An absolute must for fans of the movie. Finally, there's Painting the Roses Red Game, which is a puzzle game that is very simple to play, but gets quite difficult at the later levels

As for the film's technical presentation, let me put it this way, despite being 60 years old, this film looks as good as many first-run theatrical releases I've reviewed on Blu-ray, in fact, it looks better than most. Details are amazing, the colors truly pop, the blacks are deep, etc. There is perhaps one scene that is a little soft, the Walrus and the Carpenter scene; however, that scene is a story-with-a-story, so I believe that was the artistic intent and not an issue with the transfer. As far as the audio is concerned, the original film was in mono, so as dynamic an experience as a first-run release is not fair. That said, it comes close. The surround sound speakers are given a better workout than expected, while the dialogue is always clear and understandable. Well, as understandable as gibberish can be.

Finally we get to the price. Since the film is only coming out on Blu-ray this week, it is hard to compare, but it was released on an Unanniversary Edition DVD last year. That version cost $17, while this one costs $20. That's an unbeatable price and absolutely worth the upgrade.

The Verdict

Perhaps not among the absolute best Walt Disney has to offer, but Alice in Wonderland is still a classic film that deserves the resurrgence in popularity it earned in the 1960s and 1970s. The Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack looks and sounds amazing, while the extras, new and old, add a lot to the overall value. It's easily worth picking up, and even a contender for Pick of the Week.

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Filed under: Video Review, Alice in Wonderland