Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

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Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Director: Wilfred Jackson and Clyde Geronimi

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Tomatometer: 77%

MPAA Rating: G

Cast: Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn, Richard Haydn, Sterling Holloway, Jerry Colonna, Verna Felton


This Disney feature-length cartoon combines the most entertaining elements of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Chasing after the White Rabbit, who runs into view singing “I’m Late! I’m Late!,” Alice falls down the rabbit hole into the topsy-turvy alternate world of Wonderland. She grows and shrinks after following the instructions of a haughty caterpillar, attends a “Very Merry Unbirthday” party in the garden of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, stands in awe as the Cheshire Cat spouts philosophy, listens in rapt attention as Tweedledum and Tweedledee relate the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter (a sequence usually cut when Alice is shown on TV), and closes out her day with a hectic croquet game at the home of the Red Queen.


Somehow, this was the first time I had seen the original Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. I really don’t know how that is possible, but as I was watching it, I kept thinking, I’ve never seen this before.

Disney’s Alice is a very fun, albeit frustrating romp through Wonderland, though it still retains the creepiness of the original story, even though it is “for kids”. Because it’s quite a bit shorter, Alice doesn’t encounter as many of the inhabitants of Wonderland as she does in other versions. But all the important ones are there: The Mad Tea Party, the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, among others.

The animation is in the lovely vein that Disney had going in the 50’s and 60’s, similar to Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians. It’s a bit more whimsical and soft than those two, but there’s something so pretty about it that I wish Disney would bring back. Wonderland is extremely colorful, of course, and the art is zany and fun to go along with the insane inhabitants. The script is clever and seamless, with Alice wandering through the place and running into character after character.

I so appreciate that Alice gets frustrated. She sits down and cries a few times; she’s what, 11? I don’t remember her exact age, but I can imagine that being in that situation would be frustrating. I also love that she is so sassy in this version; she actually felt like a real little girl. In other versions, its sort of like, oh look, strange things are happening. Ok.

Not this version. She’s a sassy little British kid that is not taking any of Wonderland’s nonsense.

And she still happens to be adorable and ladylike as well.

Just as with all the old Disney movies, songs are blended into the script, creating charming musical scenes that sometimes Alice participates in and sometimes she’s trying to get away from. Of course, everyone’s favorite scene (don’t lie), happens to be the Mad Tea Party, where The Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse all sing “A Very Merry Unbirthday”, though perhaps what makes this scene so adorable are the tea pots chiming the instrumental bits:

There are many numbers like this one throughout the movie, giving it that adorable, classic Disney feel.

If you’re a fan of Alice in Wonderland, you can’t go wrong with this classic Disney version. It is perhaps a little simpler and less inclusive, but it is charming and whimsical, and a joy to watch. A great addition to your movie library.

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