For the Disney Film Project podcast recently, I sat down to watch Alice in Wonderland. I did this knowing full well that I don’t really enjoy the film. I also knew that our very own NDM #1 counted this as her favorite film. She was to be a guest on the show and I wanted to put my best foot forward and discuss the film intelligently.
In discussing the movie with NDM #1, I found some of her points about it very interesting. Amongst them was the idea that the complete randomness of Alice in Wonderland was a true reflection of life, and that certain scenes in this film had a much deeper meaning. As I listened, I realized that she saw this film in a much different way than I had. I promised her I would watch the film again, and I did.
Did my opinion change? Would watching Alice in Wonderland again reveal the truth behind the film?
As promised, I watched Alice again just a few days after I had watched it the first time. This time, I kept in mind the idea that there had to be more to each scene than I had thought. In some of the scenes, I did see some deeper meaning. Take for example, the caucus race scene, where the characters are running in a circle around a rock, trying to get dry, but the water keeps washing over them.
Surely this scene is a reflection of the “rat race” that so many of us go through. Rushing around, trying to keep our heads above the figurative water, making ends meet – it sounds familiar, doesn’t it? So, in the caucus race, I see the point.
Then you come to Tweedledee and Tweedledum. What purpose do they serve, other than to be annoying? The story they tell of the Walrus and the Carpenter is a somewhat amusing one, but how does it illustrate anything about Alice or the White Rabbit? What purpose does it serve? I could say the same thing about Alice’s growth spurt in the White Rabbit’s house.
To be fair, the Mad Tea Party bits are lots of fun, and they also show us that perhaps there is such a thing as too much madness and nonsense in life. It’s a turning point in the film, to be sure, although a subtle one. Even earlier, when the flowers turn Alice away and call her a weed, it’s definitely a commentary on society and its lack of acceptance for those of us who are different.
The problem with the film is that it never ties all of these things together. Why should I care about Alice? I’ve watched this film twice in the last three days, and I still don’t know. Kathryn Beaumont turns in a magnificent performance as the voice of Alice, and between that and the fine animation, she’s a good character, but not someone I can say that I know much about from the film.
Walt Disney himself said this film lacked heart and was not among his favorites. I agree. Although each scene in and of itself is fine and well done, the entire thing lacks a cohesiveness that could have made it a great film.