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Alice in Wonderland (Masterpiece Edition)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // January 27, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 10, 2004 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Disney has re-released their 1951 animated classic Alice in Wonderland.
This two disc set contains a remastered version of the movie along with
several nice bonus features. But is this new set worth upgrading to if
you already have the first version?

Most people are probably familiar with the story of Alice in Wonderland.
One nice day young Alice is bored, and dreams of another world all her
own. No sooner has the thought sprung up in her mind, than a rabbit wearing
a waist coat and a pocket watch runs past. Following him into a rabbit
hole, she falls a long, long way and lands softly in Wonderland. Here she
meets unique and interesting creatures and has many adventures while trying
to get back home.

Alice in Wonderland was Walt Disney's 13th animated feature.
Released a year after Cinderella, Alice has a gained the reputation
of being one of the weaker films to come out of Disney studios, which in
only partially justified.

When compared with Lewis Carroll's books, the Disney work is inferior.
First, the Disney team melded Carroll's two books, Alice in Wonderland,
and Through the Looking Glass, into one conglomeration. Gone are
many of the absurd poems that made the books so enjoyable, and those that
are retained lose their sense of fun and whimsy. The only trace of Carroll's
most famous poem, Jabberwock, is a few lines sung by the Cheshire
Cat. A lot of the word play that Carroll used in his book didn't make it
to the film either.

But as an animated film, Alice in Wonderland is a wonderful surrealist
romp. The film is filled with colorful and bizarre creatures and objects.
From talking doorknobs to the Cheshire Cat who devours himself, this is
one of the most imaginative movies Disney ever animated. The colors and
animation are both spectacular, and the characters, while very strange,
are memorable and endearing. Who doesn't remember the White Rabbit's opening
line: "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say 'hello,'
goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late."

How does the feature compare to the original
DVD release?

This new edition looks better than the original disc, which is saying
a lot because the first release was attractive as it was. For this release,
the Disney team went above and beyond to create an excellent looking movie.
The lines were uniformly sharp throughout, and the level of detail was
improved. Presented with a 1.33:1 ratio, as it was originally released,
the colors are brighter and more vivid than the previous release. The disc
looks remarkable.


Screen capture from Alice in Wonderland's first release (Gold Collection.)

Screen capture from Alice in Wonderland Masterpiece Edition 

On the audio side, there are several different tracks to choose from.
There is the original mono track, and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks available
in English, French, and Spanish. Captions for the hard of hearing are available
in English.

I was glad that they included the mono track, something that the original
release was missing. It's nice to be able to hear how the movie was originally
presented. Unfortunately, there was a low level hiss in the mono track,
that wasn't too noticeable since there is music in the background through
much of this movie. It was noticeable though, especially during the quieter

The 5.1 mix is about as good as can be expected for a soundtrack that
was originally recorded in mono. The hiss that was in the mono track was
thankfully missing, and the dialog was clear. There was not a lot of use
made of the soundstage. Most of the dialog and music was centered over
the screen. There was some music channeled to the rear speakers, but few
audio effects. This 5.1 mix was superior to the previous releases 5.0 audio.
The new sound track was fuller, and did not sound as thin as the old sound
track. Not a reference quality disc, but very good none the less.

What extras are included in this set?

There is a huge amount of bonus material included with this release.
Some of it I could have done without, but a lot that was really good and
adds to the value of the set.

The first disc's extras are clearly aimed at younger viewers, and even
taking that into account I found them lacking. The first feature is a Virtual
Wonderland Party
. This supposedly interactive feature features
a live action Mad Hatter Tea Party. After a rather long introduction and
song (where the fast forward button is disabled!) you are shown the table
where the tea party is to take place. By selecting a dish or cup you are
presented with a different video short or activity. Unfortunately, most
of these are not interactive. You simply watch the short song or animated
bit, none of which last much over a minute. There is a riddle (note the
singular,) some cookie recipes, and some short skits, some animated, some
with the live action cast. This was a lot more work that it was worth.
Even my seven year old was bored with it and wandered off before I was
finished exploring this section. Since anyone who would really enjoy this
section is probably not old enough to use the remote control, there is
also the option to play all the video straight through.

Next up are two Sing-a-long Songs:
The Unbirthday Song, and All in the Golden Afternoon. These
were nice and appropriate.

Following that is the Adventure in Wonderland
. Here you have to use your remote to help Alice find her
way through three rooms and get back home. The first room has five trivia
questions about the movie, which were fun. In the second room you are presented
with a series of cards, face down. One turns over, and you have to find
its match. Unfortunately you don't get to see the cards at any time, and
if you select the wrong card, you don't get to see which card it is, you're
just told you are wrong. So this is not a memory game, which might have
been interesting, just a guessing game which is really lame. Luckily you
have an unlimited number of guesses. The next room contains another guessing
game. You are given three cookies and have to choose which order to eat
them. There are no clues or hints, you just select which order and it tells
you if you are right or not. So, if you were persistent and made it through
the game, what do you get? A song from the movie. That's it. I was really
disappointed. Your kids will be too.

There are a selection of trailers for recent Disney theatrical and DVD
releases: Home on the Range, Brother Bear, Mary Poppins, Mulan II, The
Lion King 1 1/2
and a commercial for "Disney Consumer Products".

The last extra on the first DVD is I'm Odd a newly discovered
song that the Cheshire Cat was supposed to sing. This is not a vintage
recording but a new creation from the original music that was found in
the Disney vaults. I liked the song. It was fast and weird, and would have
fit in well with the movie.

The second DVD
has the really exciting extras. First off is the Disney's first foray into
television, the One Hour in Wonderland
special. It was broadcast on Christmas Day 1950. Having grown up with The
Wonderful World of Disney
, I was really looking forward to seeing this

There is an interesting story behind how and why this show was broadcast.
In 1950, Hollywood was getting a little worried about TV, and they didn't
know what to do about it. Walt Disney was of the opinion that it could
be a good medium to expand into, but his brother Roy, who handled the money
part of the business, disagreed. The common thought at the time was that
TV would be bad for theatrical business. Who would pay to go to a theater
if you could see a movie at home for free? For that reason Walt did not
want to do a weekly show. He was afraid of killing off his theatrical releases,
and even if it didn't, there was no way he could produce enough new animation
to fill a weekly show. But he still thought television would be a good
tool for promoting new features so he made this show to promote the release
of Alice in Wonderland.

It was still a risk. If the show did poorly or was panned, that might
cause people to stay away from the theaters. So Walt hedged his bets and
convinced ventriloquist Edgar Bergen to co-host the show with him. Bergen
was a big name at the time and a definite draw. Originally scheduled to
air on CBS, the show was moved to NBC after the original network could
not guarantee that the minimum number of stations that the sponsor (Coke)
required would carry it. NBC would guarantee it, and it ended up showing
on 62 stations.

The premise
of the show is that Edgar Bergen (along with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer
Snerd) are going to a Christmas party at Walt's place. When he arrives,
Kathryn Beaumont who voiced Alice is there (in costume, of course) along
with teen heart-throb Bobby Driscoll. Walt has just purchased a Magic Mirror,
and unveils it to his guests. They each make requests, and the mirror shows
a song Snow White, a Mickey Mouse cartoon, and other Disney clips
including a song and short cartoon from Song of the South! At the
end, with much cajoling from the guests, the mirror shows the Mad Hatter's
Tea Party scene from Alice.

This show was a big hit at the time. Of all the homes watching television
that afternoon, an amazing 90% were watching Walt's special!

Viewed today, the show is still a lot of fun. There are cameos by Walt's
daughters, and Hans Conreid does a great job as the Magic Mirror. The picture
quality is very good for a TV show over 50 years old. There are some spots
on the print, but very few. My favorite extra, and well worth upgrading
for just this bit.

Getting back to the extras, there is a great short on this disc, 1923's
Alice's Wonderland, the first "Alice comedy." Walt created this
series of shorts before he came up with the idea for Mickey. It involves
a young girl named Alice who visits Disney's animation studio. That night,
she dreams that she is in the middle of a cartoon. This short was popular,
and Walt ended up making 56 cartoons involving Alice and her interaction
with a cartoon world. It was great to see a high quality version of the
first one on this DVD.

There are trailers to Alice In Wonderland from the original 1951
release and the 1974 re-release. Also in this section are tow of Walt's
introductions to Alice when it was show on Disney's TV show. These are
about a minute long.

A 1951 behind the scenes featurette, Operation Wonderland, is
also provided. This is a promotional piece, but still very interesting.
Walt walks through the animation process, showing storyboards and how the
animators draw the cartoons. It runs 11 minutes, and while staged, is still
an interesting look at the Disney studios of the 1950's.

The Fred Warring Show was a music show from the 50's and there
is a 30 minute excerpt from a 1951 show that featured music from Alice
in Wonderland
. Walt makes a taped appearance and introduces the Alice
segment. There are several numbers preformed, and Kathryn Beaumont and
Sterling Holloway make an appearance. While I can't say that I was enthralled
with the show, it was nice to see and historically interesting.

In the Deleted Material section
we get three items. From Wonderland to Neverland:
The Evolution of a Song
is a 6 1/2 minute piece hosted by Kathryn
Beaumont that discusses how a song that was cut from Alice was reworked
for Peter Pan.

There is a Deleted Storyboard Concept,
with story boards for a cut scene involving Alice before she goes down
the rabbit hole.

Also included are Original Song Demos,
recordings done by the Disney music staff during the early stages of production.
They include Beware the Jabberwock, Everything Has a Useness, So They
Say, Beautiful Soup, Dream Caravan,
and If You'll Believe In Me.
This was the best part of the Deleted Material section. These were great
to listen to, even though some were rough.

Lastly there is an Art Gallery with
conceptual art, production photos, character designs, and promotional art.
There are almost 60 stills.

Cut to the Chase: Should I upgrade?

An unqualified yes. Disney went to a lot of work and really improved
the sound and picture of the movie. That would be enough for some people
by it self, but the extra material really adds a lot to the package. Both
historical and entertaining, the extras are great to have. If you already
own Alice in Wonderland, you should seriously consider double dipping.
If you don't own it, this is a no-brainer. Highly

Buy from






Highly Recommended

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