Walt Disney’s Retelling of “Alice In Wonderland”

DVD Cover - IMDb

DVD Cover – IMDb

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) Walt Disney released Alice in Wonderland in 1952. As with most Disney movies, this film featured many catchy jingles for many scenes throughout. After reading and watching the movie for the first time I unquestionably noticed a handful of similarities and differences.

The film by Disney is a combination of Lewis Carroll’s “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”. Disney’s retelling introduces us to Alice she listens to her history lesson while playing with her cat, Darna, while in the book she is sitting next to her sister reading a book. Since this is a children’s movie, it’s possible that Disney incorporated the subject of History in an educative manner to interest their children viewers in history. Children often look up at Disney princesses and characters as role models. Perhaps introducing the subject of History would spark interest in children to be like Alice and take interest in History. In the film, Alice follows a white rabbit and falls through a rabbit hole. In the movie Alice lands directly in the hall of the doors. In the Lewis Carroll’s original book, Alice has to follow the rabbit in order to get to the miniature door. In the film, as typical for Disney (giving life to inanimate objects) the miniature door speaks to Alice telling her to take a potion to change in size from a table that magically appears. However, in the text “Alice in Wonderland”, the table is already in the scene and the potion has instructions for her to drink it. Accurate however, was the scene of the pool of tears.

A major difference I spotted in the film was the appearance of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, characters that appear in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. Most significant was Tweedle Dee’s and Tweedle Dum’s recitation of “You are old, Father William”, which Alice recites in the book to the Caterpillar. Their characters however were very well illustrated in the film as they were in the original text – obnoxious and annoying. The character of the Queen was also exact as the book, with the Queen screaming “off with his head” to resolve all issues.

In Disney’s movie, the Caterpillar (as in the text) sits on a large mushroom smoking hookah. In the film the Caterpillar transforms to a butterfly where in the book the Caterpillar did not transform; it was only insinuated as Alice only talked about how the Caterpillar would one day transform into a butterfly.One of my favorite scenes from both the film and the book was of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. In the film, the white rabbit appears with the recurring motif of the watch complaining about lateness and tardiness. The Mad Hatter takes it from the white rabbit and says that it’s defective. In an attempt to fix it he begins to smother it with jelly, tea, sugar and other items from their tea party. In Carroll’s original book, the Hatter takes out his watch and asks what time it is, the white rapper makes no appearance in this scene. After she leaves the tea party Alice gets lost in the woods and meets very odd creatures, another very Disney styled animation.One of the scenes I found to be exact as the book was of the cards painting the roses red. In the movie, the cards sing a jingle that tells why they’re painting the roses red – as is explained in the book. Alice chimes in, sings along and helps them.

As the movie came to an end, Alice was chased by all of the creatures until she reached the miniature door again. She peeped through the keyhole and saw herself asleep beside a tree. Disney illustrated Alice escaping wonderland waking up to reality and going in to drink tea as instructed by, who from the book we assume is her sister. The book also ends with Alice waking up from a dream, however in the book she wakes up to her sister instructing her to go in for some tea.

A few pieces from Carroll’s original book I found were completely omitted from the Disney movie were: the concept of the chess game, the scene of the queen and the pig, the Mock Turtle, the dormouse story from the tea party, the Gryphon, the Jabberwocky, and the Lobster Quadrille. I feel that these are scenes that Disney did not incorporate in their retelling because they were scenes that perhaps children would have trouble understanding.

Disney movies, especially the retelling of “Alice in Wonderland”, are marketed and geared towards the children audience. Their films feed to the child mind, and this retelling of Alice’s curious and imaginative world explored just that. It allowed for the child mind to explore and engage in Alice’s endless possibilities.

4 thoughts on “Walt Disney’s Retelling of “Alice In Wonderland”

  1. Hi Leticia,
    I have seen this adaptation multiple times, in fact it is one of my favorite Disney films. I agree that this is combination of the two Alice books, but I think it has more elements from the first book than Through the Looking Glass. You’re right about how there are many elements of Disney in the film: talking object, cutesy animation, and songs that get stuck in your head.
    I was a bit confused about what you were trying to say about history. In the film, her sister (named Katrina) is reading her a book that bores Alice. How would that spark a child’s interest in history? This Disney production has darker themes in it than others, do you think there is a certain age of children who enjoy it more than others?

  2. Leticia, I think it’s interesting that both your and John’s selections have one thing in common: they mostly follow the story of Alice in Wonderland, but incorporate tiny bits from Looking Glass, particularly Tweedledum and Tweedledee. In my comment on his post, I asked why that particular episode is the one that gets brought over, and you might have thoughts about that too. I’m also interested that Disney pulled the “Unbirthday” bit out of Humpty Dumpty’s section and made it the Tea Party song (though I love the inclusion of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat” too). I agree that Disney probably made their choices based on what might appeal most to children or be the easiest to convey in film, but what about the scenes that they left out do you think made them particularly difficult? Does leaving them out change the overall impression of the story?

  3. Hope – The book that Katrina is reading to Alice in the beginning of the film is a history book almost as thought she’d be giving Alice a History lesson to Alice. I made the connection to education as a method for Disney to influence education and the topic amongst its young viewers. I definitely feel that because the film is a Disney film geared towards a younger audience (elementary school-aged children specifically) many of the darker themes were excluded from this retelling.

  4. Dr. Ficke, I too found interesting that Disney pulled the “Unbirthday” bit out of Humpty Dumpty’s section and made it the Tea Party song. Because of its geared audience I can infer that they chose to pull this from humpty dumpty to not confuse its young viewers with regards to Humpty Dumpty. As school-aged children we learn the humpty dumpty nursery rhyme and taking it out of its original context and placing it in a retelling of Alice in a Disney film may have caused confusion to its young viewers. After watching Disney’s retelling of Alice in Wonderland one thing is for sure understood. Alice is filled with an incredible fantastical imagination. I don’t think that leaving particular scenes took away from that. In fact, focusing on interesting characters like TweedleDee and TweedleDum, whose silliness cause laughter, entertains the young audience and contributes to Alice’s curious world.

    Does leaving them out change the overall impression of the story?

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