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Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition DVD Review

"Alice in Wonderland" (1951) movie poster Alice in Wonderland

Theatrical Release: July 28, 1951 / Running Time: 75 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske

Voice Cast: Kathyrn Beaumont (Alice), Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter), Richard Hayden (Caterpillar), Sterling Holloway (Cheshire Cat), Jerry Colonna (March Hare), Verna Felton (Queen of Harts), J. Pat O'Malley (Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum/The Walrus/The Carpenter), Bill Thompson (White Rabbit/Dodo)

Songs: "Alice in Wonderland", "Very Good Advice", "In a World of My Own", "All in the Golden Afternoon", "The Walrus and the Carpenter", "The Caucus Race", "I'm Late", "Painting the Roses Red", "March of the Cards", "'Twas Brillig", "The Unbirthday Song"


Alice in Wonderland was re-released on March 30, 2010 in a new 2-Disc Special Un-Anniversary Edition.
It includes a never-before-seen deleted scene "Pig and Pepper" and new featurette "Reflections on Alice." Click here to read our review.
Buy Special Un-Anniversary Edition DVD / Buy Masterpiece Edition from Amazon.com


Review by Kelvin Cedeno

Alice in Wonderland is one of the Walt Disney's most imaginative (yet underrated) classics. It breaks the standard formula of Disney by walking on its own ground and
becoming far ahead of its 1951 time period. Basically everyone knows the main plot of Alice. Alice is a little girl who is bored and tired of her current life when she sees a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch. Following him down a rabbit hole, Alice ends up in the topsy-turvy world of Wonderland where everyone speaks in riddles and do extremely odd things. The film boasts some of the most colorful animation (and characters) ever churned out by the studio. The script may not be very faithful to Lewis Carroll's classic novel, but it captures its spirit and main events as well as dropping subtle hints here and there to those who have read the book. Its voice cast is particularly excellent with each and every cast member standing on their own vocal ground and always making sure they both fit the character and make it memorable. Alice in Wonderland may not be regarded as the best of the studio by the general public, but time has been kind to it and helped make it appreciated by audiences for it unique and distinct flavor.

The March Hare and Mad Hatter enjoy a bit of tea.

Buy Alice in Wonderland: 2-Disc Masterpiece Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio (Fullscreen)
Dolby Digital Mono & 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English
Closed Captioned
Release Date: January 27, 2004
Two Single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Dual Amaray Keepcase with Slipcover
Previously Released as Gold Collection DVD

Don't Be Late - Get your Alice in Wonderland merchandise at Hot Topic

VIDEO and AUDIO

Alice in Wonderland has been released as a 2-Disc Masterpiece Edition by Disney, with a new transfer and more supplements than the previous Gold Collection DVD. The THX-approved, 1.33:1 transfer is simply stunning. The Gold Collection DVD looked quite good to begin with, but the Masterpiece Edition takes it to a whole new level. Sharpness was uniformly excellent and more distinct than the previous edition. Colors are brighter and more natural and print defects are completely gone. Backgrounds that once remained dark and hidden are now finally shown in all their glory to the point where every brushstroke can be seen clearly. This transfer is on par with other restorations such as that of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty.

Screencap from the "Alice in Wonderland" Gold Collection DVD Screencap of same "Alice in Wonderland" frame from Masterpiece Edition DVD

Screencap from Gold Collection DVD

Screencap of same frame from Masterpiece Edition DVD


The film has also received a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Soundtrack. Although it won't be considered reference-quality, the track is as good as it gets for a film that was originally recorded in mono. Speech is clear and well-defined without ever getting thin. Score and sound effects are spread across nicely throughout the speakers, with certain effects bringing up the rear. Overall, this new soundtrack has more of an edge to it than the 5.0 track of the Gold Collection DVD. In a nice move, the original mono track is included for purists as well as French and Spanish 5.1 tracks.

Disc 1 Main Menu Kathryn Beaumont introduces the unused song 'I'm Odd' compilation Mickey Mouse in 'Thru the Mirror' short

BONUS FEATURES

While the previous DVD of Alice in Wonderland was pretty bare in the way of supplements, the original Archive Edition laserdisc was filled to the brim with them. For the most part, these features have been ported over into this new 2-Disc Masterpiece Edition.
First off, a Wonderland Matching Card Game is included inside the DVD package along with basic instructions that children can learn from. On disc one resides the bulk of the kiddie features.

We start them with the much-publicized Virtual Wonderland Party. In this, actors portraying Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit host a tea party for a group of children in the style of a children's television show. When starting, one is given the option to either explore the tea party by means of clicking various tea pots that lead to games, riddles, and songs, or through an autoplay system that plays all the segments in one continuous show format. With the latter option, the Virtual Wonderland Party runs approximately 20 minutes. Contained in it are Welcome to Wonderland, Find the Tea, Mad Hatter Says, Riddles, Caucus Race, Mad Hatter's Cookies, Follow Me, A Shrinking Adventure/Unbirthday Song, and Goodbye to Wonderland. Although rather bizarre, the show isn't quite as terrifying as others have claimed, and children will enjoy participating with Alice and her friends through multiple activities, though why this is called "virtual" begs speculation.

Next up are two sing-along songs that were also on the original DVD: "All in the Golden Afternoon" and "The Unbirthday Song". Although slightly pointless due to the ability to turn on subtitles during the main feature, it's interesting to compare the restored print to the unrestored one found in these.

"Adventures in Wonderland" is a set-top game in which the Cheshire Cat asks riddles that get through the hallway at the bottom of the rabbit hole and through the tiny door. The first part involves matching the item to its riddling description, the second is basically a matching card game, while the third is a random guessing game. It's cute, though little ones may get frustrated at the guessing segments. The big reward for winning is...The "World of My Own" scene from the film. That makes the point of winning the game fairly non-existent.

Another much-publicized feature comes in the form of the unused song "I'm Odd." Alice voice actress Kathryn Beaumont introduces this feature by detailing the history of the number which then leads to a newly recorded version of the song (since only the sheet music was found) done by Disney voice actor Jim Cummings as the Cheshire Cat set to movie clips and concept art. It's a catchy tune, and the interesting introduction makes it even better.

The last feature on Disc One is the animated short "Thru the Mirror" starring Mickey Mouse. While not necessarily based on Carroll's works, it definitely borrows some concepts such as size-changing and live inanimate objects. This short remains charming and one of the most memorable of Mickey's features.

Kathyrn Beaumont deals with puppet's flirtations in 'One Hour in Wonderland' Kathryn Beaumont and Walt Disney in his first television special, "One Hour in Wonderland." That's right, there is a lengthy excerpt from "Song of the South", Disney's unofficially banned movie, in "One Hour in Wonderland."

On Disc Two lies the bulk of the meaty features, starting with something that has gotten many Disney fans excited over this release: the complete, unedited "One Hour in Wonderland" TV Special. In this program, Walt Disney and Kathryn Beaumont host a Christmas party with guests such as Peter Pan voice actor Bobby Driscoll and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (who appeared in Fun and Fancy Free). By means of the Magic Mirror, the show presents clips from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Song of the South (no, that isn't a typo), Alice in Wonderland, the two animated shorts: "Clock Cleaners" starring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, and a Pluto short involving Butch the dog. All the clips are presented in Technicolor (the way Walt would've preferred it had color television existed back then), including Song of the South's which remains a very pleasant surprise to all Disney fans. The special is fun and is of great historical value in that it was the very first time anything Disney-related aired on television.

Next up is a short Walt did long before Mickey Mouse: "Alice's Wonderland" (8 minutes). In this silent short, a live action Alice daydreams about a cartoon Wonderland that has absolutely nothing to do with the Lewis Carroll novel. This short is a fascinating example of early Disney as well as early special effects and is a true gem. Oddly, the ending of the short is missing from this DVD.

Following are two theatrical trailers (2 minutes apiece) that are in fairly good condition considering their age and are a rare-yet-welcome treat on this edition. They include the original theatrical trailer as well as the 1974 reissue trailer (which differs from the reissue trailer found on the Gold Collection DVD). There are also two introductions (roughly a minute apiece) by Walt Disney. The first from 1954 was for his Disneyland television show while the second from 1964 was for his Wonderful World of Color television show.

Silent Walt Disney short: 'Alice's Wonderland' Walt Disney in 'Operation Wonderland' Fred Waring of 'The Fred Waring Show' fame

"Operation Wonderland" (11 minutes and the only substantial feature on the old DVD) is a promotional featurette that aired as part of the Ford Star Revue. Narrated by James Melton for his daughter Margo, the featurette goes through the basics of the production and even shows some of the live-action reference footage shot for the animators. Although promotional, it's an interesting featurette none the less. Curiously, the introduction to the featurette found on the Gold Classic DVD fails to show up here.

The next feature is an excerpt from "The Fred Waring Show" (31 minutes). In this show (which is one of the earliest examples of live television, hence the rough looking picture), Walt Disney, Kathryn Beaumont, and Sterling Holloway discuss making the film,
Disney
and the last two re-enact scenes from the film in costume along with other costumed actors. The whole thing is rather cheesy in nature, but it remains a watchable piece of nostalgia and is most welcome in this edition.

Under Deleted Materials we start with From Wonderland to Neverland: The Evolution of a Song (7 minutes). Like "I'm Odd", this feature begins with an entertaining introduction by Kathryn Beaumont who details the history of how the song "Beyond the Laughing Sky" became "The Second Star to the Right" from Peter Pan. After her intro, two song demos play (one of which is really a sung introduction demo while the other is the actual song) while beautiful pieces of Alice concept art are displayed. This is one of the most fascinating features on disc two, and "Beyond the Laughing Sky" is actually a better song than the one it ended up getting replaced with-"In A World of My Own."

Deleted Song Demo: 'Beware the Jabberwock' Deleted Storyboard Concept: 'Alice Daydreams in the Park' Art Gallery

Deleted Materials also includes a Deleted Storyboard Concept: Alice Daydreams in the Park (2 minutes). Set to the film's score, storyboards are shown of an alternate opening to the film in which Alice finds hidden images in all the things around her (but not the kind that would end up at Snopes.com).

Finishing up the Deleted Materials section are six Song Demos (13 minutes): Beware the Jabberwock", "Everything Has A Useness", "So They Say", "Dream Caravan", "Beautiful Soup", and "If You'll Believe in Me". The first and last two are particularly interesting because they involve characters that didn't end up in the final film-the Jabberwock, the Mock Turtle, and the Lion and Unicorn. A few of the demos are quite catchy and all are an interesting look at an alternate Wonderland.

The final feature is a rather small-but-nice Art Gallery containing 59 stills. These stills include Concept Art, Character Models, Production Photos, and Posters. Overall, it's a decent little gallery with some truly beautiful pieces of artwork, particularly by Mary Blair who also worked on Cinderella and Peter Pan.

Alice covers her mouth in a wonderland.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Overall, Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition is a solid package with healthy extras and excellent picture and sound quality, but it falls short of being the definitive Alice DVD. Some materials from the Archive Edition Laserdisc failed to show up on DVD. These include two radio broadcasts (one of which was a radio dramatization starring Kathryn Beaumont), two story outlines, approximately 13 other song demos, a far more extensive gallery that included storyboards (none of which appear in the gallery), and a music-and-effects-only track.
Now, it was inevitable from the start that the track would be the first to go, but one wonders the reasoning for the withholding of everything else. Surely some audio features and two text outlines wouldn't take up much space residing on disc two as well as more pieces of artwork.

Another baffling concept is why this 2-Disc set fails to include a commentary track and any new form of documentary or featurette. The closest this set gets to the latter is the Kathryn Beaumont song intros which were very well made and were a taste of the "making of" that could've been. If Disney bothered to produce new intros for some of the features, they might as well have produced a new featurette hosted by Kathryn with remarks from her and Disney animators. The lack of commentary is even more perplexing as every Disney 2-Disc release previous to Alice has included audio commentary. It is apparent that Disney was trying to produce this DVD as cheaply as possible, and while the results are quite good, Disney DVD fans know they could've done better.

Despite the rambling of the paragraphs above, Alice in Wonderland: Masterpiece Edition very much earns a recommendation to both those who own the previous DVD and those who don't. A classic Disney animated film has been given the very best in visual and audio quality as well as a nice platter of extras therefore no Disney fan has an excuse to not own this DVD treasure.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy 2-Disc Special Un-Anniversary Edition DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Alice in Wonderland (1951): Special Un-Anniversary Edition Alice in Wonderland (2010) (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)
Cinderella: Platinum Edition (1950) Peter Pan: Platinum Edition (1953) Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition (1959)
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: Friendship Edition (1977) Lady and the Tramp: Platinum Edition (1955)
Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities (featuring the Alice comedies) Spirited Away (2001) My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - Special 2-Disc Collector's Edition (2004) Coraline
A Musical History of Disneyland (Deluxe 6-CD 50th Anniversary Theme Park Soundtrack Box Set)
Disney Princess Sing Along Songs: Volume 2 - Enchanted Tea Party
Disney Princess Sing Along Songs: Volume 3 - Perfectly Princess

Click to read UltimateDisney.com's exclusive interview with Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Disney's Alice and Wendy!

Related Pages:
Interview with Kathryn Beaumont (the voice and model for Alice and Peter Pan's Wendy)
Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown (featuring "Painting the Roses Red", "All in the Golden Afternoon", and "In a World of My Own")
Top 30 Disney Villains Countdown (featuring The Queen of Hearts)
Top 50 Disney Heroes & Heroines Countdown (featuring Alice)

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Reviewed February 5, 2004.