Over the last nearly 150 years, since Alice's Adventures in Wonderland have been published, there have been many numerous attempts to bring Lewis Carrol's novels to film and television, with the 2010 Tim Burton version being the latest adaptation. But of all these, my favourite has always been Disney's 1951 animated film, which despite some flaws, successfully captured (even in a Disney-fied manner) the wonder of the book.
I'm relatively certain that most people would be somewhat familiar with the basics of the story, but if you aren't, then here goes. When Alice (Kathryn Beaumont) falls down a rabbit hole, she enters a world where nothing is what it seems, inhabited by strange creatures and talking animals, lorded over by the Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton), who rules the land with an iron fist.
Walt Disney had been attempting to translate Alice In Wonderland to animation for 30 years before the release of the film, frequently revising and working treatments. On release it was met with strong resistance and criticism, but found new acceptance through the 60's and 70's (alongside other psychedelic animations, such as Fantasia. Now, it's considered a Disney classic.
Alice In Wonderland is presented in a full screen aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (its original aspect ratio), encoded with AVC compression.
Like many previous Disney Blu-ray releases, Disney tasked film restoration firm Lowry Digital to restore the original negative, creating a new master file for future use. As such, Alice In Wonderland looks a million dollars, with a rich and vibrant image that is far and away superior to previous releases. Delineation is well defined and very sharp; you can literally see the strokes of a pen. Colours literally pop off the screen; the blue of Alice's dress looks amazing, with restoration artists going back to original film cels to ensure the colours look exactly as they were always intended. Lowry have judiciously used digital noise reduction to smooth out the image, but it works extremely well for animation. It almost looks too good.
Overall, a very pleasing effort from Disney and Lowry - a match made in heaven.
The main audio track is encoded in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio at 24 bits.
Obviously without re-recording many of the vocals and foley effects, Alice In Wonderland is always going to sound a little restricted in both frequency response and overall quality, but Disney have done a fine job which is both respectful of the original intentions and enlivens the film for an audience that is accustomed to surround sound offerings. Voice recordings are a little tinny (as per recording methods of the time), but are mostly fine.
The score by Oliver Wallace is typical Disney fare of the 1960's, not entirely memorable, but fitting.
Overall, a pleasing restoration, just keep in mind that it is 60 years old.
Disney have typically been very good with bringing over vintage extra features prepared for previous releases, and Alice In Wonderland does not disappoint - you can safely retire previous DVD releases. Let's jump in.
First up is the feature long Picture in Picture video track hosted by Kathryn Beaumont who voiced Alice all those years ago. What a treat for animation fans. Even the most hard core Alice fan will learn something about the original books and the animation process. Very highly recommended.
Next up are a few making of featurettes which somewhat pale in comparison to the aforementioned picture in picture track. Operation Wonderland is a vintage 1951 short on the making of which provides a cursory glance at the inner workings of Disney, but rather promotional in nature. The longer One Hour in Wonderland is a nice antique TV special originally made to coincide with the film's release. You won't return to this often, but it's a nice window into the world of promotions in times past. More illuminating is the relatively newer Reflections on Alice, a retrospective look at the film and its value in the larger Disney collection.
In the next section is 25 minutes of Deleted Scenes, four of which are new to this release. They aren't all finished and one musical number was used later in Peter Pan, but they are all worthy of inclusion. It would have been nice to see these re-scanned in HD, but it's not to be.
Next is a bunch of archival loose ends; a short Pencil Test: Alice Shrinks, Reference Footage: Alice and the Doorknob which was produced for the aid of the animators, the aptly titled Walt Disney Introductions, consisting of on-camera footage of Walt Disney presenting the film to television audiences, The Fred Waring Show excerpt which Wikipedia tells me was a musical variety show, along with some Art Galleries.
The last section houses the original Theatrical trailers, the animated theatrical short Through the looking glass starring Mickey Mouse (alluding to Disney's interest in the source material) and the Painting the Roses Red Interactive game.
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