Somehow, I have always been especially drawn to all things Alice, and I believe my first exposure was through Disney’s animated version. The nonsense images stuck in my mind as a child; the Cheshire cat dissolving into a shortening ribbon, using a flamingo and hedgehog as sports equipment, the caterpillar blowing smoke vowels into the air. The cartoon fed my imagination, and when I finally read the works by Lewis Carroll, I was even more entranced. What I especially love about Alice is how it seems to expand the limits of logic in our imagination. While I find the books much more philosophical and thought provoking, especially to young and open minds willing to find some insight in the nonsense, my visual mind will always appreciate the animated Alice in Wonderland.
Alice is your typical head in the clouds kid. Her lessons along the banks of the river are a bore, full of dull history and books with no pictures. She wishes for a world all her own, where nothing had to make sense. When she falls into her wonderland, it is frightening how all this nonsense seems to backfire against poor Alice. The way she keeps growing too big or too small at all the wrong times feels like being stuck in a nightmare.
Being taught logic, no matter how she may think she despises it, Alice tries to use it, but all the characters take no heed. So frustrating. One moment like this that fascinated me since I was a child was at the Mad Hatter’s tea party when he asks, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” When he asks this to Alice, it is interpreted as a riddle, which Alice attempts to seriously ponder. But the moment Alice asks it back, the question is turned on it’s head and taken as pure madness. Though the scene plays out differently in the book, it just goes to show, even if the waters are tested, nothing is safe or as it seems in wonderland. I have always found that both very funny and frightening.
Some of the animated characters are wonderfully inventive. Some of my favorite things about some of the characters are in the small details, like how the White Rabbit has pink eyes, the King of Hearts has no feet. And never before have oysters looked so cute, with their shells as bonnets and they dance to their demise with little detached feet. One of my favorite sequences is when Alice stumbles upon a garden of flowers and includes the musical number, All in the Golden Afternoon. Turning flowers into singing, talking individuals seems like such a difficult task, yet this ensemble of characters work beautifully together. Later in the film, the way the deck of cards march in a beautifully mathematical precision is a wonderful feat in hand drawn animation.
Many small characters have very surreal qualities, something I have always admired in animation. Somehow, these surreal characters stir up poignant emotions no matter how odd they are. They are most prevalent in the scene where Alice is lost in the woods. She steps into a family of purple horns, honking at her like angry ducks. A flock of umbrellas with bird heads, who seem to splash happily like flamingos one moment then glare down at Alice like ominous vultures the next. And when the broom-headed dog sweeps away the path Alice had been following, I always feel just crushed for poor, lost Alice.
“I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”