Alice in Wonderland is the thirteenth animated feature film produced by Walt Disney Productions in the Disney Animated Canon and was released to theaters on July 26, 1951 by RKO Radio Pictures. Lewis Carroll's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass had only a few adaptations before this movie; this adaptation solved the problems of the setting by using animation (the next adaptation wouldn't come until 1972, two decades later). The film features the voices of Kathryn Beaumont as Alice (also the voice of Wendy Darling in the later Disney feature film, Peter Pan) and Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter. Made under the supervision of Walt Disney himself, this film and its animation are often regarded as some of the finest work in Disney studio history, despite the lackluster, even hostile, reviews it originally received, especially in the UK. Even those that have made the film, including Walt Disney himself, didn't like the film, though it did receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score.
It gained popularity in the 1970s due to the "drug" culture fandom at the time, it was released in 1974, and then again in 1981. By the 1980s, the initial consensus proved to be outdated. One of the biggest cult classics in the animation medium, the film gained critical praise and became one of the most popular Disney films of all time, as well as one of the most commercially successful Disney films (ironically considering it's initial disappointment). Today it is not only universally considered the best film adaptation of Lewis Carrol's novel, but one of Disney's greatest classics.
The film opens on a golden summer day in the park in England. Alice is listening to her sister read aloud from a history book, to which Alice vocally expresses her boredom. Wandering off without her sister noticing, Alice lays down on a riverbank wishing that she had a world of her own. Suddenly Alice sees a white rabbit wearing spectacles, a red waistcoat and carrying a large, golden pocket watch. He frantically exclaims how late he is, which sparks Alice's curiosity and causes her to follow him down a rabbit hole. As Alice crawls deep inside, the rabbit hole dips suddenly down, causing her to fall into it. Unable to do anything about the situation she was in, Alice slows down her fall. Amazed at what just happened, her dress inflates and Alice continues to float down the rabbit hole wondering what would happen to her. Without anything else to do, Alice decides to admire the decorations and knick-knacks adorning the walls of the rabbit hole. She lands upside down with her dress deflating and follows the rabbit into a large hallway with a tiny door at the other end barely big enough for Alice's head. The Doorknob tells her that drinking from a bottle marked "Drink me" will help her (she is startled to find that the bottle and the table it is sitting on have appeared out of nowhere). Alice drinks the bottle's contents and starts shrinking until she becomes the right size, but the Doorknob reveals that he's locked. Frustrated, Alice is told by the Doorknob that a cake marked with the words "EAT ME" will help her reach the key that's mysteriously appeared on the now giant glass table (Mr. Doorknob appeared the key on the table with his magic for an unknown purpose, making Alice feel very stress and upset why he do such a thing, and the box of cookies also has materialized out of nowhere). This time when Alice starts eating the cake, she suddenly expands until her head and legs are cramped in the hallway.
Alice begins to weep hysterically that her massive tears flood the room, which splash like huge puddles. The Doorknob points out that the "DRINK ME" bottle still has some fluid inside, so Alice stops crying and sips some the best she can at her height. Alice suddenly shrinks and becomes so small that she fits inside the bottle. She and the bottle both travel through the doorknob's keyhole mouth and out to the sea formed from Alice's tears. A group of animals, led by a dodo, engage in a caucus race (a race without a real ending or winner) in order to get dry. Alice spots the White Rabbit and follows him into a secluded glade in the middle of a thick forest. It is here that she meets Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, two fat brothers who take particular delight in reciting poems and songs. They perform a poem for Alice called "The Walrus and the Carpenter," which tells of the two titular characters luring some oysters to their lair and subsequently eating them all. Alice sneaks away as they attempt to recite another poem for her, and she comes upon the White Rabbit's house, with its owner inside.
Before Alice has a chance to ask him why he is so frantically late, he berates her, thinking her to be his housemaid, Mary Ann, and orders her to fetch his gloves from his bedroom. Inside, Alice decides to eat another cookie, resulting her into growing so large that she gets stuck inside the house, her arms and legs sticking out the windows and doors. She tries to pull herself out but is too big. The White Rabbit pleas for the help of the Dodo to get her out, thinking her to be some sort of ferocious monster. The Dodo summons a chimney sweep lizard named Bill to rip the house's chimney off. Bill's scampering down the chimney causes soot to rise and Alice to sneeze, shooting Bill up towards the sky. The Dodo then attempts to burn the house down using some of the White Rabbit's broken furniture, much to his dismay. Alice frantically looks for a solution to her dilemma and finds one in the form of a carrot in the White Rabbit's garden. After eating, Alice shrinks down to three inches in size. The Rabbit runs off again, this time into a garden of flowers. Because of Alice's size, the flowers are as tall as trees to her. Initially, they are eager to entertain her, but when she reveals that she is not a flower, they suspect that she may be a weed and throw her out in a panic.
Alice gets over her annoyance at their rudeness quickly when she sees a blue caterpillar blowing smoke rings in the air. Each ring takes the form of a letter or symbol that the Caterpillar is saying. Despite her best efforts to ask him how to grow tall again, the Caterpillar continuously interrupts her, instructing her to recite various bizarre poems. He grows angry at her displeasure of being the same height as him, and turns into a butterfly in a rage, though not before giving her cryptic advice about the mushroom she is sitting on. Alice breaks off two pieces from either side of the mushroom. She takes a bite of the first piece which causes her to grow so tall that her head sticks out of the trees and alarms a nesting mother bird that thinks she is a serpent. She then takes a bite of the second piece and shrinks back down to three inches high. With a small lick of the first piece, Alice finally grows back to her normal size and decides to put both mushroom pieces into her pockets.
Wandering through the woods, she meets the Cheshire Cat, an eerily grinning feline that can disappear and reappear at will. Alice tries her best to ask him where the White Rabbit has gone to, but her attempts are futile as he speaks vaguely and in riddles. He finally points her in the direction of the March Hare's house. It is here that Alice sees a long tea table set up outside with the March Hare himself accompanied by a Mad Hatter and a Dormouse. She finds out that they are celebrating their unbirthdays, which is a day of the year when it is not one's birthday. Alice is briefly included in the celebrations before they manically dash about the tea table, offering Alice tea but never actually giving her any. When the White Rabbit shows up, the Hatter and Hare attempt to fix his pocket watch but end up destroying it in the process. After they've literally thrown him out of the tea table, Alice tries to run after him but finds that he has disappeared again. Soon Alice gives up trying to track the White Rabbit down and decides to spend her time trying to get back home. She finds herself more and more lost in a forest called Tulgey Wood, which is filled with bizarre creatures that either snap at Alice or pay no attention to her at all. She breaks down crying and finds the Cheshire Cat again. He opens a door in a tree that leads to a seemingly neverending hedge maze, telling Alice that the Queen of Hearts could possibly help her.
She meets some giant playing cards who are painting white roses red since the Queen only prefers red and will behead them if she discovers their mistake. Alice tries to help them, but the White Rabbit appears and heralds the arrival of the Queen, her significantly shorter husband, and her massive pack of cards army. The Queen has a ferocious temper and is prone to having anyone beheaded at a moment's notice, to which she applies to the card painters who unsuccessfully painted the white roses. Randomly switching between bipolar moods, she invites Alice to play a game of croquet with her, using flamingos as mallets, hedgehogs as balls, and card soldiers as goals. The Queen actively cheats during the game and beheads anyone who dares stand in the way of her victory. The Cheshire Cat appears and attaches the beak of the Queen's flamingo mallet to the bottom of her dress, resulting in her toppling over and revealing her underwear. The Cat disappears in time to make it look like Alice was the prankster, but before the Queen can order her execution, the King suggests they have a trial.
The Dormouse, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter all come forth as witnesses that add nothing whatsoever to the trial at hand. When the subject of unbirthdays arises, everyone in the courtroom celebrates the Queen's. Thanks to some more mischief by the Cheshire Cat, pandemonium ensues. Alice suddenly remembers that the mushrooms were still in her pocket and shoves both pieces into her mouth, growing to gigantic proportions. At this size, Alice scolds the Queen for her rash behavior but then starts shrinking back to her normal size all too soon.
The Queen orders for her guards to execute Alice, which results in a frantic chase through Wonderland. Various characters Alice met on her journey appear and inexplicably join the Queen and her guards in their pursuit. Coming back to the Doorknob, Alice is told by him that he's still locked and that she's already on the other side. Looking through the keyhole, Alice sees herself asleep in the park. At that point, Alice realizes that everything in Wonderland is all just a dream. She urgently bangs on the door as the mob draws closer until she gradually awakens to the sound of her sister's voice. Both Alice and her sister return home, and Alice is still in thought of her crazy dream.
- Alice - Kathryn Beaumont
- Mad Hatter - Ed Wynn
- Caterpillar - Richard Haydn
- Cheshire Cat - Sterling Holloway
- March Hare - Jerry Colonna
- Queen of Hearts - Verna Felton
- The Walrus and the Carpenter, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and the Curious Oysters - Pat O'Malley
- White Rabbit and Pat the Dodo - Bill Thompson
- Alice's Sister - Heather Angel
- The Doorknob - Joseph Kearns
- Bill the Lizard, Card Painter - Larry Grey
- Bird in a Tree, Snooty Flower - Queenie Leonard
- King of Hearts - Dink Trout
- The Rose - Doris Lloyd
- Dormouse, Flamingos - James MacDonald
- Card Painters - The Mellomen
- Don Barclay as Other Cards
- Lucille Bliss as Sunflower and Tulips
- Pinto Colvig as Flamingos
- Tommy Luske as Young Pansy
- Clarence Nash as Dinah and Tulgey Woods Creatures
- Marni Nixon as Singing Flowers
- Norma Zimmer as White Rose
The history of Walt Disney's association with Lewis Carroll's Alice books (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) stretches all the way back to his childhood. Like many children of the time, he was familiar with the Alice books and had read them as a school boy.
In 1923, when Disney was still a 21-year old filmmaker trying to make a name for himself by working at the Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, making the unsuccessful short cartoon series by the name of Newman Laugh-O-Grams. The last of Newman Laugh-O-Grams was called Alice's Wonderland. which was loosely inspired by the Alice books. The short featured a live-action girl (Virginia Davis ) interacting in an animated world. Faced with business problems, however, the Laugh-O-Gram Studio went bankrupt in July 1923, and the film was never released to the general public. However, Disney left for Hollywood and used the film as a sort of pilot to show to potential distributors. Margaret J. Winkler of Winkler Pictures agreed to distribute the Alice Comedies, and Disney partnered with his older brother Roy O. Disney and re-hired Kansas City co-workers including Ub Iwerks, Rudolph Isling, Friz Freleng, Carmen Maxwell, and Hugh Harmen to form Disney Bros. Studios (later Walt Disney Productions). The series began in 1924 before being retired in 1927.
In 1932, Walt began toying with the idea of making an animated feature film and repeatedly turned to the idea of making a feature-length animated/live-action version of Alice starring Mary Pickford, and even purchased the rights to Sir John Tenniel's illustrations (still under copyright at the time). However, these plans were eventually scrapped in favor of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, mainly because Disney was put off by Paramount's 1933 live-action adaptation. However, Disney did not completely abandon the idea of adapting Alice, and in 1936 made the Mickey Mouse cartoon Thru the Mirror.
In 1938, after the enormous success of Snow White Walt Disney revived the idea of making an Alice feature and officially registered the title Alice in Wonderland with the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America and hired storyboard artist Al Perkins and art director David S. Hall to develop the story and concept art for the film. A story reel was complete in 1939, but Walt was not pleased as he felt that Hall's drawings resembled Tenniel's drawings too closely making them too difficult to animate and that the overall tone of Perkins' script was too grotesque and dark. Realizing the amount of work needed for Alice in Wonderland, as well as the economic devastation of the World War II and the production demands of Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, Walt shelved production on Alice in Wonderland shortly after the screening.
In 1945, shortly after the war ended, Disney once again revived Alice in Wonderland and assigned British author Aldous Huxley to re-write the script. However, Walt felt that Huxley's version was too much of a literal adaptation of Carroll's book. Background artist Mary Blair submitted some concept drawings for Alice in Wonderland. Blair's paintings moved away from Tenneil's sketchy illustrations by taking a modernist stance, using bold and unreal colors. Walt liked Blair's designs, and the script was re-written to focus on comedy, music, and the whimsical side to Carroll's book.
Disney toyed with the idea of having a live-action/animated version of Alice in Wonderland (in a similar fashion to his Alice Comedies) that would star Ginger Rogers and would utilize the recently developed sodium vapor process. Lisa Davis Waltz (who would later voice Anita Radcliffe in One Hundred and One Dalmatians) and Luana Patten were also considered for the role of Alice. However, Walt soon realized that he could only do justice to the book by making an all animated-feature, and in 1946, work began on an all-animated version of Alice in Wonderland.
Through various drafts of the script, many sequences that were present in Caroll's book drifted in and out of the story. However, Walt insisted that the scenes themselves keep close to those in the novel since most of its humor is in the writing.
One omitted scene from the 1939 treatment of the film occurred outside the Duchess' manor, where the Fish Footman is giving a message to the Frog Footman to take to the Duchess saying that she is invited to play croquet with The Queen of Hearts. Alice overhears this and sneaks into the kitchen of the manor, where she finds The Duchess' Cook maniacally cooking and the Duchess nursing her baby. The cook is spraying pepper all over the room causing the Duchess and Alice to sneeze and the Baby to cry. After a quick conversation between Alice and the Duchess, the quick-tempered Cook starts throwing pots and pans at the noisy baby. Alice rescues the baby, but as she leaves the house the baby turns into a pig and runs away. The scene was scrapped for pacing reasons.
Another scene that was deleted from a later draft occurred in Tulgey Wood, where Alice encountered what appeared to be a sinister-looking Jabberwocky hiding in the dark, before revealing himself as a comical looking dragon-like beast with bells and factory whistles on his head. A song, "Beware the Jabberwock" was also written. However, the scene was scrapped in favor of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" poem.
Another cut scene in Tulgey Wood shows Alice consulting with the White Knight, which was meant to be somewhat of a caricature of Walt Disney. Although Walt liked the scene, he felt it was better if Alice learned her lesson by herself, hence the song "Very Good Advice."
Other characters, such as the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon were discarded for pacing reasons.
In an effort to retain some of Carroll's imaginative verses and poems, Disney commissioned top songwriters to compose songs built around them for use in the film. A record number of potential songs were written for the film, based on Carroll's verses—over 30—and many of them found a way into the film, if only for a few brief moments. Alice in Wonderland would boast the greatest number of songs included in any Disney film, but because some of them last for mere seconds (like "How Do You Do and Shake Hands", "We'll Smoke the Monster Out", "' Twas Brilling", "The Caucus Race", and others), this fact is frequently overlooked. The original song that Alice was to sing in the beginning was titled "Beyond the Laughing Sky". The song, like so many other dropped songs, was not used by the producers. However, the composition was kept and the lyrics were changed. It later became the title song for Peter Pan (which was in production at the same time), "The Second Star to the Right".
The title song, composed by Sammy Fain, was later adopted by jazz pianist Bill Evans and featured on his Sunday at the Village Vanguard.
Compared to the books
Characters not in the film
- The Duck, Lory, and the Eaglet
- The Puppy
- Mouse (not to be confused with dormouse)
- The Duchess, the Cook, the Baby and the Footmen (Frog & Fish) (seen in Deleted Scene "Pig and Pepper" on 2010 DVD)
- The Gryphon and the Mock Turtle (Both, however, did appear in Disney produced Jell-O commercials based around Alice in 1957.)
- The White Knight and the Red Knight
- The Lion and the Unicorn
- The Executioner (Seen in the Disneyland Ride)
- The Gnat and the Snapdragonfly
- The Red Queen and the White Queen (although many of the Red Queen's lines were given to the Queen of Hearts and they featured in the live-action remake, Alice in Wonderland (2010 film)
- Hatta and Haigha
- Lily (the White Queen's daughter)
- The White King
- The Red King
- Humpty Dumpty
In the book
- When Alice falls down the rabbit hole in the book, there is no mentioning of her dress acting like a parachute.
- When Alice goes through the small door, the door does not talk, and Alice does not fall into the bottle.
- Also, Mr. Doorknob never appears the table with his magic, or for the bottle to be on the table first instead of the key. The Doorknob also did not make the "Eat Me" box appear. But there is a mention of the fact that Alice didn't see this two things when she enters in the Doorknob Room, so perhaps they actually appeared (but without help from Mr. Doorknob).
- In the book, inside the "Eat Me" box, are cookies (although some retellings change it to a slice of cake), while they are chocolate bombons in the film.
- Having a Caucus Race to get dry, and Alice gives prizes, but the Dodo gives Alice her own items back to her as a prize.
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee's poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter, is slightly different.
- Alice gets stuck in The White Rabbit's house, after she takes another taste from a bottle, she does not take another bite from an "Eat Me" cookie
- Alice grows a lot bigger in the movie than in the book. In the book, she fills the room she is in, while in the movie she fills the whole house.
- In the book, Alice bumps her head on the ceiling while still drinking from the bottle, thus implying that she wouldn't have grown to giant size if she had stopped drinking. The movie makes her growth be instantaneous.
- In the book, the Lizard gets sent flying because Alice puts her giant foot on the chimney and kicks the Lizard out. The movie changes it to Alice sneezing while giant-sized, and her sneeze being so powerful that she blows the Lizard away.
- The Caterpillar requests Old Father William, not How Doth the Little Crocodile.
- One common misconception is that Disney completely changed the mushroom scene. They didn't change as much as everyone thinks. In the book, the Caterpillar does indeed say that "one side will make you taller, while the other will make you smaller". And, after eating the mushroom, Alice shakes her hands and ends up shaking the tree tops, indicating that she did indeed grow to giant size. Her neck stretching was simply meant to convey the process of Alice growing to giant size. In the book Alice grows to giant size in a similar way that Mike Teevee does in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with all of her limbs stretching as she grows taller and bigger. Disney changed the way she grows so all of her body grows to giant size at once, which ended up fueling the misconception that only Alice's neck grows in the book.
- The Mad Hatter was simply called 'the Hatter', not 'the Mad Hatter'.
- The Mad Hatter and the March Hare's never-ending tea party was originally a result of the Mad Hatter's falling out with Time, and it always being six o'clock, time for tea.
- The White Rabbit does not attend the tea party.
- It is the Mad Hatter's watch that is broken, not the White Rabbit's. It is broken because the March Hare has put butter in it with a bread knife.
- Alice goes directly from the tea party to the Queen's garden, without getting lost in Tulgey Wood.
- The gardeners are the two, five and seven of spades, but in the film they are the ace, two and three of clubs. In the book, spades are gardeners and clubs are soldiers.
- Alice hides the gardeners so that they will not be beheaded, but in the film this does not happen.
- The Gryphon tells Alice that executions ordered by the Queen are rarely carried out. There is no mention of this in the movie, where the Queen is portrayed as much more of a tyrant than Carroll intended her to be.
- The Queen orders the execution of the Cheshire Cat (which fails as he only presents his head, and the executioner comments that he cannot behead a head without a body).
- The Queen of Heart's trial is about the Knave of Hearts of stealing her tarts, and Alice takes on the role of a witness.
- Contrary to popular opinion, the Knave of Hearts does appear in the Disney version, but he is reduced to a fleeting cameo at the end of the March of the Cards; also he is presented as an actual playing card, in contrast to the King and Queen of Hearts who in the film are presented as human, albeit grotesquely sized.
- In the book, Alice slowly grows to giant size for no explained reason without eating the mushroom (Most likely due to this being just a dream so anything could happen). Her growth continues through most of the trial.
- At the end of the trial after Alice grows larger she doesn't get smaller again and there is no nightmarish chase scene towards the end, before Alice wakes up, although the cards do rain over her in both.
- Alice in the movie is far more effective at using her giant size to fend off the Card Soldiers.
Songs in Film
- "Alice in Wonderland (song)" - The Jud Conlon Chorus
- "In a World of My Own" (Alice's Theme) - Alice
- "I'm Late" - The White Rabbit
- "Sailor's Hornpipe" - The Dodo
- "The Caucus Race" - The Dodo and Animals
- "How Do You Do and Shake Hands" - Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
- "The Walrus and the Carpenter" - Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
- "Old Father William" - Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum
- "Smoke the Blighter Out" - The White Rabbit
- "All in the Golden Afternoon" - The Flowers and Alice
- "AEIOU" - The Caterpillar
- "Twas Brillig" - The Cheshire Cat
- "The Unbirthday Song" - The Mad Hatter, The March Hare, and Alice
- "Very Good Advice" - Alice
- "Painting the Roses Red" - The Playing Cards and Alice
- "Who's Been Painting My Roses Red?" - The Queen of Hearts and The Playing Cards
- "The Unbirthday Song (Reprise)" - The Mad Hatter, The March Hare, The Queen of Hearts, and The Playing Cards
- "The Caucus Race" (Reprise)" - The Entire Cast Minus Alice
- "Alice in Wonderland" (Reprise)" - The Jud Conlon Chorus
Songs written for film but not used
This list contains 30 songs that are demo recorded and deleted in alphabetical order from the I'm Odd documentary that was narrated by Kathryn Beaumont in Bonus Features at Disc 1 from the 2004 Special DVD Edition.
- "Alice and Bottle" - (Osborne & Frank Churchill) - August 2, 1939
- "Alice and the Cheshire Cat" - c. 1947
- "Alice in Wonderland" - (Frank Churchill) August 14, 1939
- "Beautiful Soup" - (Don Raye and Gene de Paul) July 16, 1947, and (different from above version) by the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle set to the tune of the Blue Danube.
- "Beware the Jabberwock" - (Don Raye and Gene de Paul) June 2, 1947, by the Chorus
- "Beyond the Laughing Sky" - (Bob Hilliard and Sammy Fain) April 22, 1949 (replaced by "In a World of My Own"; this melody was later used for "The Second Star to the Right" in Peter Pan, with new lyrics by Sammy Cahn)
- "The Carpenter is Sleeping" - c. 1947
- "Curiosity" (Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston) June 28, 1948
- "Dream Caravan" (Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston) - August 4, 1948 - The Caterpillar (replaced by "AEIOU")
- "Entrance of the Executioner" - c. 1947
- "Everything Has a Useness" (Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston) - June 28, 1948 - Meant for the Caterpillar, in which he explains to Alice that everything has a purpose in this case, the use of the mushroom.
- "Garden Snips" (Frank Churchill) - July 12, 1939
- "Gavotte of the Cards" - c. 1947
- "How Doth the Little Crocodile" - c. 1947
- "Humpty Dumpty" - c. 1947
- "If You'll Believe in Me" (Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston) by the Lion and the Unicorn (deleted characters) - August 4, 1948
- "I'm Odd" - (Bob Hilliard and Sammy Fain) - September 28, 1949, by The Cheshire Cat (replaced by "Twas Brillig")
- "It's Crazy to be Sane" (Osborne & Frank Churchill) - July 25, 1939
- "The Jabberwocky Song" - c. August 5, 1947 - A direct adaptation of the Jabberwocky poem.
- "The Lion and the Unicorn" - c. 1947
- "The Lobster Quadrille" (Carroll and Frank Churchill) - June 6, 1939
- "Mock Turtle Soup" (Carroll and Frank Churchill) - June 15, 1939
- "Pepper Lullaby" (Carroll and Frank Churchill) - July 27, 1939
- "So They Say" - c. 1947 by Alice
- "Speak Roughly to Your Little Boy" - From the original book. - c. 1947
- "The Walrus and the Carpenter" (different music and more lyrics than the final film version)
- "When the Wind is in the East" - c. 1947
- "Where is Wonderland? (Bob Hillard and Sammy Fain) - July 27, 1949 (replaced by the opening song.)
- "Will You Join The Dance?" - c. 1947 (a different version on "Lobster Quadrille")
Release and Reception
All of these creative decisions were met with great criticism from fans of Lewis Carroll, as well as from British film and literary critic who accused Disney of "Americanizing" a great work of English literature. Disney was not surprised by the critical reception to Alice in Wonderland – his version of Alice was intended for large family audiences, not literary critics – but despite all the long years of thought and effort, the film met with a lukewarm response at the box office and was a sharp disappointment in its initial release, earning an estimated $2.4 million at the US box office in 1951.
Though not an outright disaster, the film was never re-released theatrically in Walt Disney's lifetime, airing instead every so often on network television. In fact, Alice in Wonderland aired as the second episode of Walt Disney's Disneyland TV series on ABC in 1954, in a severely edited version cut down to less than an hour. In The Disney Films, Leonard Maltin relates animator Ward Kimball felt the film failed because "it suffered from too many cooks – directors. Here was a case of five directors each trying to top the other guy and make his sequence the biggest and craziest in the show. This had a self-canceling effect on the final product." Walt Disney himself felt that the film failed because Alice the character had no "heart."
Almost two decades after its original release, after the North American success of George Dunning's animated film Yellow Submarine, Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland suddenly found itself in vogue with the times. In fact, because of Mary Blair's art direction and the long-standing association of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland with the drug culture, the feature was re-discovered as something of a "head film" (along with Fantasia and The Three Caballeros) among the college-aged and was shown in various college towns across the country. The Disney company resisted this association, and even withdrew prints of the film from universities, but then, in 1974, the Disney company gave Alice in Wonderland its first theatrical re-release ever, and the company even promoted it as a film in tune with the "psychedelic" times (mostly from the hit song "White Rabbit" performed by Jefferson Airplane). This re-release was so successful, it warranted a subsequent re-release in 1981. The successful re-releases proved that the films audience consisted of more than just "druggies". Its first UK re-release was on July 26, 1979. Alice in Wonderland was one of the first Disney films to be released on home video, of which it was also a big success. By its re-release in 1981, the film was finally hailed by critics and audiences as one of Disney's greatest classics.
The film made over 7 million in its overall theatrical re-releases. Despite the fact, it was released infrequently in theaters, adjusted for inflation it grossed 322 million. Note that this is just above Cinderella (inflation gross: $312 million), which was released almost twice as much in theaters and premiered a year earlier.
On the film aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes, the overall rating of the film is a "fresh" 79% from 26 critical reviews with an average rating of 6.6/10. Its consensus states that "A good introduction to Lewis Carroll's classic, Alice in Wonderland boasts some of the Disney canon's most surreal and twisted images.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, but lost to An American in Paris.
- American Film Institute lists
- AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals – Nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Animated Film
Home video releases
- Main article: Alice in Wonderland (video)
- Alice in Wonderland is the first Disney movie to have ending credits. The second is The Black Cauldron, but the difference is that the latter film has no opening credits.
- In the aforementioned opening credits, Lewis Carroll's name is incorrectly spelled "Carrol".
- When the head flower says "Sound your A, Lilly", a B-flat is actually sounded.
- This Disney animated feature was the first one in which the voice talent is credited on-screen with the characters they each play. This would not occur again until The Jungle Book.
- In "The Walrus and the Carpenter" sequence, the "R" in the word "March" on the mother oyster's calendar flashes. This alludes to the old adage about only eating oysters in a month with an R in its name. That is because the months without an R are the summer months (May through August) when oysters would not keep due to the heat in the days before refrigeration.
- The fish watching the walrus that lures the oysters away look exactly the same as the fish (albeit recolored) that watch Pinocchio search for Monstro the whale in Pinocchio.
- This film features more individual songs than any other Disney film. Fourteen original songs are included in the seventy-five minute run time.
- When the White Rabbit introduces the King of Hearts (after introducing the Queen of Hearts), a high-pitched voice can be heard cheering "Hooray!". Many people believe that Mickey Mouse is the one who is cheering.
- The blue bird seen in the beginning of the film is really from Bambi.
- When the Caterpillar says "Keep your temper" he is painted wrong; he is supposed to be blue with a light blue belly but at that moment he has a blue belly and a light blue left side.
- To this day, being one of the more popular Disney films (despite being one that Walt Disney was personally disappointed in), many of the characters have been represented at Disney theme parks, such as the title character, the White Rabbit, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Mad Hatter, and the Queen of Hearts. The Cheshire Cat and The March Hare are meetable characters at Disneyland Paris while Mr. Walrus is a very rare meetable character. The King of Hearts and four Card Soldiers appear as walking characters during the Happiness is Here Parade at Tokyo Disneyland.
- The White Rabbit's pocket watch's numbers change from regular to roman numbers just before the Mad Hatter takes it and tries to "fix" it.
- After the March Hare strikes the White Rabbit's pocket watch with a hammer, the picture becomes black and white rather than color for a few seconds. It is not known if this is intentional or not. A theory is that a part of the masters was lost and was replaced quietly with the black and white section, however, as it fades to black and white gradually it may be a deliberate effect. This could be a reference to the 1933 black and white version, the first ever filmed version of the story, or it could be a reference to the black and white Tenniel illustrations of the original book.
- The fanfare that played right after the song, "Painting the Roses Red", was the same as from Dumbo when it was played right after Timothy Mouse said "Dumbo the Great!"
- The flamingo from the Carnival of the Animals segment of Fantasia 2000 resembles the flamingos used by the Queen of Hearts.
- The book appears in the beginning of Pinocchio.
- One of the pencil-birds met by Alice will reappear in Donald in Mathmagic Land, where Donald will also dress up as Alice at one point.
- The 2000 Gold Classic Collection DVD version of the movie features the 1985-2006 Walt Disney Pictures logo in the beginning, but not in the end of the movie.
- This is the fourth Disney animated classic to have the 2006 Walt Disney Pictures logo at the end of the movie, on current releases.
- When the flowers are singing, a caterpillar that looks like Figaro is seen.