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Alice in Wonderland: 60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD Review

Disney's 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 / Writers: Winston Hibler, Ted Sears, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Milt Banta, William Cottrell, Dick Kelsey, Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Del Connell, Tom Oreb, John Walbridge (story); Lewis Carroll (novels)

Voice Cast: Kathryn Beaumont (Alice), Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter), Richard Hayden (Caterpillar), Sterling Holloway (Cheshire Cat), Jerry Colonna (March Hare), Verna Felton (Queen of Hearts), Pat O'Malley (Tweedledee, Tweedledum, The Walrus, The Carpenter), Bill Thompson (White Rabbit, Dodo), Heather Angel (Alice's Sister), Joseph Kearns (Doorknob), Larry Grey (Bill), Queenie Leonard (Bird in the Tree), Dink Trout (King of Hearts), Doris Lloyd (The Rose), James MacDonald (Dormouse), The Mellomen (Cards)

Songs: "Alice in Wonderland", "In a World of My Own", "I'm Late", "The Sailor's Hornpipe", "The Caucus Race", "How D'Ye Do and Shake Hands", "The Walrus and the Carpenter", "Old Father William", "We'll Smoke the Blighter Out", "All in the Golden Afternoon", "A-E-I-O-U (The Caterpillar Song)", "'Twas Brillig", "The Unbirthday Song", "Very Good Advice", "Painting the Roses Red"

Buy Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951) from Amazon.com:
60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD 2-Disc Un-Anniversary Edition DVD 2-Disc Masterpiece Edition DVD Gold Collection DVD

The new "Through the Keyhole" mode is a triple threat, presenting the film, Mary Blair artwork, and various commentators (including animator Will Finn, pictured). This recently discovered silent live-action reference footage shows us Kathryn Beaumont playing Alice meeting the Doorknob on an empty sound stage.

BONUS FEATURES

Alice in Wonderland's Blu-ray carries over the bulk of the special features found on previous releases and adds some newly-produced ones. The most substantial of the new supplements is "Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland" (1:16:15, HD). Reminiscent of the "Inside Walt's Story Meetings" feature on Bambi, this viewing mode presents a mix of interviews, concept art, and photographs while the film itself continuously plays. The presentation constantly changes the way it presents these elements.
Watch a clip from "Through the Keyhole":
Sometimes the film takes up one side of the frame while the extra material fills in the other side. Other times, the film is relegated to a small picture-in-picture (PiP) window while the interviewees and artwork fill the background.

Kathryn Beaumont-Levine, the voice actress for Alice and credited with her maiden name throughout this set, introduces the feature but doesn't actually appear in it. Instead, we get contributions from Disney and Carroll expert Brian Sibley, animation critic and historian Charles Solomon, Victorian literature professor Morton Cohen, Disney Imagineer Daniel Singer, historian Paula Sigmond, animator and story artist Will Finn, and animation art historian and conservator Ron Barbagallo. The guide devotes as much time to Lewis Carroll and his books as it does to Walt Disney and his film production, thoroughly examining both in an absorbing and entertaining way. The unique presentation feels like a blend of audio commentary, lengthy documentary, and video gallery. At long last, after a focus on archival materials, Alice is treated to a comprehensive and satisfying retrospective that's easily one of the best home video extras produced for a Disney film.

The next addition is "Reference Footage: Alice and the Doorknob" (1:32, HD). After another Beaumont introduction, we see a newly discovered live-action reference footage clip, the only known surviving piece aside from what's shown in "Operation Wonderland" (later in this review). You can watch the scene with the corresponding film clip in a PiP window, the audio from which is used to overlap the footage, or you can view the footage full-sized with Beaumont commentary. What memories she's able to squeeze in the allotted time are surprisingly enlightening, making her absence in "Through the Keyhole" a bit more disappointing. Either way, this is fascinating.

This roughly-animated Ollie Johnston pencil test depicts the first of Alice's many size changes. This "newly-discovered" Walt Disney television introduction might look familiar; it's just the original color version of the 1954 broadcast. As the White Rabbit scurries through a card-infested hedge maze, we wait and see how many white roses we must skillfully paint red.

Beaumont again turns up to lead us into "Pencil Test: Alice Shrinks" (0:53, HD). Calling this a pencil test seems strange as the animation, done by animator Ollie Johnston, is identical to what we see in the finished film. More accurately, it is a piece of rough animation, though that doesn't stop it from being a worthwhile inclusion.

Also somewhat new to this edition is a Walt Disney TV introduction from 1959 (1:14, HD). There's only one aspect of this that's actually new: it's in color. While this is being touted as a never-before-seen intro from 1959, it's actually a color version (as filmed) of the 1954 introduction found elsewhere in this set.

The final bonus debuting on this edition is the Painting the Roses Red Game. Here, you're presented with a rose bush filled with a certain number of white roses. You can click one to paint it red, but be careful: the changing of one rose also alters the ones directly touching it. Changing all the roses red within a certain number of moves advances you to the next level. This fairly challenging strategy activity increases in difficulty as you go along, adding roses on each level. The last few rounds feature randomized patterns, encouraging more future visits. The prize is merely a film clip montage, but at least the game itself doesn't insult one's intelligence.

Disney animator Andreas Deja shares his own "Reflections on Alice" in this 2010 retrospective. The newly-remastered "Operation Wonderland" presents us with some rare glimpses at the live-action reference film shot for the production, here showing Kathryn Beaumont and Jerry Colonna's mad tea party. The deleted Cheshire Cat song "I'm Odd" was never recorded, so we get veteran voice actor Jim Cummings  singing it anew while concept art is displayed.

Already being shoved under Classic DVD Features despite not being a year old is "Reflections on Alice" (13:26, SD), a featurette created for last year's Un-Anniversary Edition. This features comments from historians (Charles Solomon, Stacia Martin, Paula Sigman, John Canemaker, and Lella F. Smith), animators (Eric Goldberg, Andreas Deja, and Frank Thomas), storyboard artist Floyd Norman, Alice authority Matt Crandall, senior vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering Tony Baxter, and Kathryn Beaumont-Levine. They discuss the inspiration for the original novels, Walt's fascination with the tales and the various versions that were worked on beforehand.
They also touch upon Mary Blair's signature style and the use of live-action reference footage. Inevitably, there's some overlap with "Through the Keyhole", but there are still anecdotes unique to this compact featurette. You'd think something released just last year would be presented in HD, but that oddly isn't the case here.

"Operation Wonderland" (11:08, HD) is an excerpt from an episode of "Ford Star Revue" that aired June 14, 1951. In it, opera singer James Melton narrates a tour of the Disney studio for his daughter Margot. Production processes from concept art and storyboards all the way through music and effects are breezed through, as Walt and several crew members turn up to explain each step. Such information is commonplace today thanks to DVD, but it's fascinating to see the animation process demonstrated and described on a movie this old. Outside of the aforementioned "Alice and the Doorknob" footage, this is our only look at live-action reference. On an interesting note, the original full featurette was apparently uncovered when remastering this. We now hear additional narration from Melton during the last third (rather than just the music used on previous releases), and get to see a few brief new shots.

Originally produced for the Masterpiece Edition DVD, "I'm Odd" (3:56, SD) is an unused (and then newly discovered) Cheshire Cat song. Kathryn Beaumont gives a history of the many songs written for the film and explains how "I'm Odd" ended up getting dropped in favor of "'Twas Brillig." After this, Jim Cummings performs the number as film clips and concept art play. It's a valuable addition, especially with the informative introduction.

The newly-remastered "Thru the Mirror" allows us to marvel at Mickey Mouse's dancing like never before. Actor Hans Conried (the voice of Captain Hook) makes his first of many appearances as the Magic Mirror for the very first Walt Disney television special, 1950's "One Hour in Wonderland." An Alice and Wonderland different from Lewis Carroll's are seen in the 1923 silent short film "Alice's Wonderland", which puts the young heroine in the path of hungry lions.

Next is the 1936 Mickey Mouse short Thru the Mirror (8:49, HD). Disney's corporate icon goes through the looking glass and finds himself in a version of his home where all the furniture and appliances are personified. There's virtually no dialogue, letting the visuals and music tell the story. It's filled with many clever visual gags and stands as one of Mickey's best shorts. It apparently has been given an extensive restoration for this release, but with a minor cost: the original title card has been inexplicably replaced with a tacky new one that looks like an infomercial logo.

Originally airing Christmas Day 1950, "One Hour in Wonderland" (59:25, SD) marks the first time Walt and his characters appeared on television. This special's premise is that Alice voice actress Kathryn Beaumont is hosting a party at the studio and has invited such guests as ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and actor Bobby Driscoll. Walt unveils the magic mirror from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (portrayed here by Hans Conried), who plays various Disney film clips at guests' request. These include portions of Snow White, the officially-forgotten Song of the South, the Mickey Mouse short Clock Cleaners, Pluto's Bone Trouble, and a then-unfinished Alice in Wonderland.
Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland
It's an intriguing look at early film promotion, and Walt's obvious showmanship talent makes this entertaining too. Note that while the special itself is in black and white, the film clips are presented in color to stay true to them. A couple of bones to pick: this hasn't been remastered for HD and the film clips don't use the newest masters available.

The 1923 silent film Alice's Wonderland (8:06, SD), the first of many short subjects known as the Alice Comedies, follows young actress Virginia Davis as she's given a tour of an animation studio by none other than a 21-year old Walt Disney. Thrilled by her experiences, she later dreams of entering her own cartoon land where she's adored by many. More of an historical curiosity than true entertainment, it's a worthwhile inclusion nonetheless. Note that for Disney's 75th anniversary, this short was given a thorough restoration and brought back to its original running time thanks to archivist Scott MacQueen and composer Alexander Rannie. While that version, running 4 minutes longer, appeared on the 2005 Walt Disney Treasures Disney Rarities set, the shorter version is still presented here.

The film's understated original 1951 theatrical trailer highlights some strengths for its earliest audiences. Voice actors Kathryn Beaumont and Sterling Holloway reprise their Alice characters in live-action costume form in this Jabberwocky excerpt from "The Fred Waring Show." The deleted character Duchess mishandles her baby in ways that will horrify 21st century audience in this "Pig and Pepper" deleted scene.

Under "Original Theatrical Trailers", we get the 1951 original theatrical trailer (2:02, SD) and the 1974 theatrical re-release Trailer (1:53, SD). Both are appreciated inclusions, but the alternate 1974 trailer that appeared on the Gold Collection DVD remains missing here.

Two Walt Disney TV introductions for the film are also presented: one from 1954 (1:20, SD) and another almost verbatim from 1964 (1:09, SD). Walt was very vocal about his displeasure at the final product, but he hides it well in these cheery intros. It's especially interesting to hear him mention the titles Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin not knowing that they'd become two of his studio's most famous films decades later. The 1954 intro is merely a black and white version (with an added announcer and title card) of the what this Blu-ray calls the 1959 intro earlier on this disc.

Another television excerpt follows, this from the March 18, 1951 episode of "The Fred Waring Show" (30:57, SD). The host introduces a live audience to songs from Alice, and many costumed performers bring these to life amidst Mary Blair-designed sets. Voice actors Kathryn Beaumont and Sterling Holloway reprise their roles as Alice and the Cheshire Cat. While it's corny and Waring looks increasingly uncomfortable, it's also valuable and enjoyable.

Deleted Materials holds several items, starting with the Un-Anniversary Edition creation "Pig and Pepper" (3:12, SD), introduced by directors John Musker and Ron Clements (who have helmed The Princess and the Frog, among other Disney films). They present a story reel by artist David Hall depicting the Duchess, her cook, and her noisy baby. The filmmakers re-enact the dialogue as the storyboards are presented. Those who've read Carroll's first Alice novel will be familiar with this segment since it's taken nearly word-for-word from the text, though it opens with some creative license more in line with the film. It's an interesting look at what could've been. Like the equally recent "Reflections on Alice", it's baffling why this isn't in HD.

Kathryn Beaumont explains how Alice's original character theme, "Beyond the Laughing Sky", later became the opening number "The Second Star to the Right" in "Peter Pan." "If You'll Believe in Me", a deleted song written for the cut Lion and Unicorn characters, is one of six song demos included. A red-headed Mad Hatter and other eye-popping Mary Blair concept artwork is presented in high-definition with many interactive options.

The Masterpiece Edition clip "From Wonderland to Never Land: The Evolution of a Song" (6:49, SD) has Beaumont introducing another deleted song, this one "Beyond the Laughing Sky." She explains how this wistful opening number meant for Alice was replaced with "In a World of My Own" and later had its melody used on Peter Pan's "The Second Star to the Right." Two demos of the original song (the second sung by potential Alice actress Gloria Donovan) follow as concept art is displayed. While the number works beautifully opening Peter Pan, it probably would've given Alice a more emotional core.

A deleted storyboard concept titled "Alice Daydreams in the Park" (2:01, SD) is next. Another alternate version of the opening scene, this has Alice imagining all of the natural things around her personified as animals and people. While more interesting things were surely cut out, it's still nice to see, especially what seems to be a reference to the Silly Symphonies short Flowers and Trees.

The section ends with six original song demos (all in SD): "Beware the Jabberwock" (2:15), "Everything Has a Useness" (1:18), "So They Say" (1:54), "Beautiful Soup" (1:27), "Dream Caravan" (2:33), "If You'll Believe in Me" (3:01). Some of these are particularly worthwhile because they were intended for characters later cut, such as the Mock Turle (who later appeared with Alice in a Jell-O commercial), the Lion, and the Unicorn. Most are just as catchy as what's in the film.

The Blu-ray extras end with an Interactive Art Gallery. You can choose to view its 81 stills as thumbnails, individually, or as an automatic fullscreen slideshow. Optional film score (taken from the caucus race, garden of live flowers, and Cheshire Cat scenes) plays consistently over any of these modes. You may also favorite certain images and even search by topic. The concept art presented here is appreciated, and the interface makes it more useful and fun.

Not really a supplement so much as a presentation option, DisneyView fills in the gaps left by the film's 1.33:1 ratio with artwork by artist Michael Humphries. His stylized border art is at odds with the film's realistic opening and closing scenes, but blends in well during scenes in Wonderland. While it's not as distracting as one would think, I can't see how people annoyed by black side bars would find this less jarring.

The Masterpiece Edition holdover "Virtual Wonderland Party" features Alice and Mad Hatter cast members hosting what's basically a children's variety show. The "Adventures in Wonderland" set-top game requires you to remember the positions of these cards for a matching game. At least it's better than 52 Pick Up.

The bonus DVD is a clone of the Un-Anniversary Edition's first disc with updated sneak peeks. The first of the two bonus features kept exclusive to DVD is the "Virtual Wonderland Party" (27:06). Despite sounding like a computer animated game, this is more or less a children's television show made for DVD. Disney cast members portraying Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the White Rabbit are joined by three children for a mad tea party. It encourages audience participation with activities like "Mad Hatter Says" (a variant on Simon Says), sing-and-dance-alongs, and brief mini-games requiring remote control use. The segments can either be watched consecutively or accessed individually by selecting tea pots scattered throughout the tea table. It's hokey to be sure, but the cast members do a commendable job at portraying their characters and young children might enjoy it.

Finally, there's "Adventures in Wonderland," a set-top game hosted by the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Jim Cummings). It consists of three levels: choosing the item that best correlates with its description, matching up pairs of cards, and selecting the right cookie to shrink and fit through the door. The first two are quite easy, through the third is obnoxious since it's just a guessing game. Completion of the game results in a worn-out clip of the song "In a World of My Own." It's a rudimentary activity with a pointless prize.

The Blu-ray disc opens with trailers for Winnie the Pooh, Bambi: Diamond Edition, and Disney Blu-ray 3D, plus an anti-smoking announcement. These can also be viewed through the menu's "Sneak Peeks" along with ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, Tangled, Dumbo: 70th Anniversary Edition, Spooky Buddies: The Curse of the Howlloween Hound, and The Incredibles Blu-ray. The bonus DVD replaces the Disney Parks trailer with one for D23, substitutes Disney Blu-ray for Blu-ray 3D, and adds a spot for Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World - Special Edition DVD. In a nice move, the BD adds the option of a pop-up menu during disc playback that allows you to skip ahead to a particular trailer.

Film clip - "Alice and the Queen":

WHAT'S MISSING?

The impressive contents of Alice's 60th Anniversary Edition offer the extensive treatment most films can only dream of receiving. Even so, it's worth noting what supplements from previous releases didn't make it over to this one. The Gold Collection DVD featured a read-along storybook and trivia game narrated by Kathryn Beaumont along with worn-out sing-alongs for "All in the Golden Afternoon" and "The Unbirthday Song."
The sing-alongs made it onto The Masterpiece Edition DVD but were dropped for both the Un-Anniversary Edition and this 60th Anniversary Edition. The 2000 disc also held a different 1974 re-release trailer than the one that's featured here, and that has yet to appear on any other release.

More importantly, the 1995 Archive laserdisc held a staggering amount of supplements, including many of the ones found here. Below is a complete list of what didn't make it onto this Blu-ray in any form:

* Music-and-Effects Track
* Final Sequence Breakdown
* Main Title Designs (Used as menus for The Masterpiece Edition and Un-Anniversary Edition)
* Lobby Cards
* Press Book
* "The Caucus Race" (Demo)
* "I'm Late" (Demo)
* "I'm Late" (Test)
* "The Unbirthday Song" (Demo)
* "Tea Party" Dialogue Sequence Test
* "Alice in Wonderland" (Demo)
* In a World of My Own (Piano Instrumental)
* In a World of My Own (Demo)
* The Jabberwocky Song (Demo
* Twas Brillig (Piano Instrumental)
* The Walrus and the Carpenter Part 1 (Version #2)
* The Walrus and the Carpenter Part 2 (Version #1)
* The Walrus and the Carpenter Part 2 (Version #2)
* The Walrus and the Carpenter Part 3 (Version #1)
* Garden of Live Flowers Dialogue Sequence (in which Alice does not sing her solo)
* Rose Garden Scene (Alternate recorded dialogue)
* "How Doth the Little Crocodile" (Demo)
* Paul Frees Audition: Dodo Bird
* Paul Frees Audition: White Rabbit #1
* Paul Frees Audition: White Rabbit #2
* "The Lion and the Unicorn" (Demo)
* Instrumental Demo
* "Dance" Instrumental Demo
* "Entrance of the Walrus and the Carpenter" Instrumental Demo
* "Alice and the Cheshire Cat" (Demo)
* "Gavotte of the Cards" (Demo)
* "Mock Turle Soup Song" (Demo)
* "Humpty Dumpty" (Demo)
* "Entrance of the Executioner" (Demo)
* "When the Wind is in the East" (Demo)
* "Braham's Lullabye" Kathryn Beaumont Test
* The Carpenter is Sleeping (Demo)
* Speak Roughly to Your Little Boy (Demo)
* Will You Join the Dance (Demo)
* Finale (Demo)
* Alice in Wonderland BBC Radio Broadcast of July 4, 1951 (A one-hour radio dramatization with Walt Disney and Kathryn Beaumont)
* BBC Christmas Radio Broadcast 1951 (Pre-recorded in California, Walt Disney in character as Mickey Mouse introduces different Disney songs with Kathryn Beaumont)

There were also text-based features and extensive galleries that all essentially have been replaced by "Through the Keyhole." The features listed above, however, are missed. Had they been carried over, this would've easily been the definitive edition of Alice in Wonderland. Instead, the Blu-ray must settle for just being the film's best release. "Through the Keyhole" gives the film something important not even the elaborate Archive laserdisc did: retrospection. Throw in the new extras that have been created for each new release since 2004, and you've got a thoroughly satisfying look at how this film came to be.

The Blu-ray's main menu takes us on a tour of Wonderland, stopping briefly to admire the mad tea party while the Dormouse pops out of the animated border.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The Blu-ray's menu takes us on a virtual flythrough of Wonderland not unlike Beauty and the Beast's menu. With each area we pass, borders change to fit that locale stylistically. The menu selections use a yellow retro-looking font that are listed vertically on the left. A disappearing Cheshire Cat, leaving only his eyes and grin behind, acts as the loading icon. The DVD menu carries over the rabbit hole theme found on the 2004 and 2010 editions.

Both discs are housed in a standard side-snapped blue keepcase, topped by a cardboard slipcover with embossment and holographic effects. New artwork of Alice and the Doorknob (appropriate given the reference footage and pencil test included) adorns the back. Inside the case is a Disney Movie Rewards code and a pamphlet for Disney Blu-ray.

Alice attempts to tell her story to the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse, and the March Hare, but she doesn't get very far before being interrupted.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland seems to have moved up in status among the studio's animated film canon. A black sheep upon release, it has slowly moved through the middle of the pack over the years and based on this Blu-ray release and the recent boom of merchandise,
it now seems fair to call the movie part of Disney's "lower upper class." Indelible characters, a visual feast of a world, and whimsical tunes make Alice the remarkable result of two visionaries who shared their gift of imagination with the world: Lewis Carroll and Walt Disney.

This 60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray allows us to marvel at every aspect of the film with flawless picture, strong sound, and a fantastic roster of extras. The missing laserdisc supplements are admittedly disappointing, but compared to all the DVD supplements Snow White lost and Fantasia had relegated to BD-Live, Alice makes the jump to high-definition virtually unscathed. There's no reason for any fan of Disney, animation, or fantasy not to own this release. Even if you're not particularly fond of the movie, the presentation and supplements could win you over. It's an exceptional release of an extraordinary motion picture.

Support great cinema and this site -- Buy Alice in Wonderland from Amazon.com:
60th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray + DVD Combo / 2-Disc Un-Anniversary Edition DVD

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Related Reviews:
Alice in Wonderland (2010) (Blu-ray + DVD Combo) Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities (featuring the Alice comedies) Alice (2009)
Disney Blu-ray Combos: Beauty and the Beast Fantasia & Fantasia 2000 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Secretariat
1950s Disney Animation (2-Disc Platinum Editions): Peter Pan Cinderella Lady and the Tramp Sleeping Beauty
Waking Sleeping Beauty The Boys: The Sherman Brothers' Story Walt & El Grupo Return to Oz Spirited Away Coraline Kiki's Delivery Service
Walt Disney Animation Collection: Mickey and the Beanstalk Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Friendship Edition) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Robin Hood (Most Wanted Edition)

Click to read our interview with Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Disney's Alice and Wendy!
Our Interview with Kathryn Beaumont (the voice and model for Alice and Peter Pan's Wendy)

Related Countdowns:
Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown (featuring three Alice in Wonderland songs)
Top 30 Disney Villains Countdown (featuring The Queen of Hearts) | Top 50 Disney Heroes & Heroines Countdown (featuring Alice)

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Reviewed January 29, 2011.