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Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Persistence of Disney, Part 15: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

lady-and-the-tramp

“In the whole history of the
world there is but one thing
that money cannot buy . . .
to wit – the wag of a dog’s tail.”

– Josh Billings

Lady and the Tramp opens with this lovely statement and thankfully never backs away from it.  This is a movie in love with dogs.  It loves the way they move, the way they howl, the way they beg, the way they sleep, the way they love us and most curiously the way in which they observe us.  Here is a movie so in love with the canine world that you can imagine the animators crawling around on the floor for inspiration.

Apart from any other studio dealing in animation – which at the time included Warner Brothers and the Fleisher studios – the animators at Disney were not about going after the obvious jokes.  Yes, there are a thousand jokes to be made about the typical habits of the domesticated dog but there was something more intimate in Disney’s presentation.  We understand their body language, but here is a movie that wants us to get inside their heads.  The movie closely observes not only their movements but also their attitudes regarding the world around them, a world in which the master is the center of all things and the curiosities of the world don’t extend much further than treats, mischief, nap-time and the ever-present net of the dog catcher.

The movie opens with a scene that has every dog lover nodding with recognition.  It opens when Lady is just a puppy and the owners want to keep her in a basket in the basement.  She persistently sits at the door and howls and cries until she gets their attention.  Upset at her persistence, the master of the house pushes a chair against the basement door.  Undaunted, Lady pushes at the door until she has enough room to get out.  Then she climbs the stairs and begs to sleep on their bed.  Finally, the owners relent and let her sleep in their bed, but “Just for tonight.”  As Lady settles in we see the passage of time and realize that one night of sleeping on their bed has turned into a lifelong commitment.  Watching that scene I almost don’t even have the watch the rest of the movie.  It’s a wonderful short film in and of itself.  It tells a story that has a perfect punchline, and is probably one of the most perfect pieces of animation ever put together by Disney.

That scene is done almost without dialogue and that adds a nice natural touch to the moment.  However, the rest of the movie does give dialogue to the dogs and it’s nice that it doesn’t mar the effect (for an example of how it could go wrong I refer you to 2000’s Dinosaur).  In presenting the world of dogs, the writers walked a very fine line between observing canine behavior and giving them human sensibilities.  When in the presence of a human, Lady and Tramp bark and wag their tails like real dogs but away from the human world they speak English and even philosophize.  Careful observations of behavior are then given to human-like pleasantries.

Yet, when the dogs do speak, it’s not a lot of Sesame Street treacle.  It observes their world in the cute adorable way that we might expect.  It’s childlike but surprisingly mature – or mature enoughLady and the Tramp is far more “adult” then any of the other 14 features that preceded it, and that sounds like an odd observation given the fact that the movie sees the adult world through a dog’s eyes in much the same way that a child might see their parents.  They are loved and spoiled but become part of a rigid routine that they often find themselves rejecting.  The dilemma for Lady is that she feels that she is being pushed out of the way by her owners Jim Dear and Darling (that’s what they call each other so she assumes these are their names) in response to the onslaught of a life changing event that lessens her station in their lives with the coming of a new baby.  The full-on attention that she once received suddenly takes a backseat to the care and feeding of this tiny new creature who has stolen their undivided attention.  Lady heartbroken as she goes from sleeping on the bed to sleeping outside.  This is much the same way that a first born might feel upon the arrival of a brother or sister.  What’s interesting is that its all a mystery to her as she wonders what she could have done wrong.

In observing the world of a dog, the animators also did away with the fantasy settings that, up to this point, had become the Disney trademark.  The previous films of the decade, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, occupy the same time frame (the early 20th century) but only in so far at the framework was concerned –the central core of their stories were the fantasy worlds of Wonderland and Neverland respectively.  Here the landscape is, more or less, the real world.  It takes place in New England sometime in the late 19th century or early 20th at a time between the horse-drawn coach and the advent of the motorcar.

Walt Disney was born and raised in this time period, he was born in Chicago in 1901 but famously grew up in Missouri.  This is a time and place that he might have recognized, the sterile world of the early 20th century before World War I.  The motorcars, the broad class distinctions and the landscape dotted with newly arrived immigrants make this setting uniquely American.  Disney’s previous films were fuzzy on their locales whether it be Snow White that takes place somewhere in western Europe; Pinocchio that takes place somewhere in Italy; Bambi that takes place somewhere in . . . God knows where!  Canada?  Wyoming?  Washington state?   Lady and the Tramp takes place in New England.  We can see that.  It is most obvious in the settings, the world of privilege and even in the scene in which Jim Dear nails a Yale banner to wall in the baby’s room.  High on the hill of this lush setting, Lady lives in the posh New England landscape of wealth and privilege.  Cast out into the world, she ends up on the wrong side of the tracks were we see the lower end of the social spectrum, a world of back alley’s, store fronts, and laundry strung between the tenement buildings.

This early American working class setting is fitting for the early years of the century as we are introduced to a vast tableau of immigrants.  Yes, there are the Italian-a chefs who who serve-a da spaghetti.  But also the vast array of dogs who are bound by their country of origin – The Russian Wolfhound is Russian;  the Scottish Terrier is Scottish; the Dachshund is German, etc.

This world is presented most especially by the presence of Tramp, a free spirited mutt who isn’t bound by the master’s leash.  He’s something new to Lady who has only understood the comforts of treats and the morning walk.  Lady and the Tramp is one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made, and not by way of any kind of cliche.  Its genuine.  When Lady and Tramp meet, it’s not love at first sight, in fact their first scene together has him laying out all of the horrors that await her domestic tranquility in the wake of the new baby.  His disservice to her suffering is only put forth by the fact that, as a homeless dog, he himself will never have to deal with such things as masters and their new babies.  Yet something connects between them as he shows her the ways of chasing chickens and back alley meals.

That meal, by the way, is movie folklore and one of the greatest romantic expressions ever put to film.  Fed spaghetti and meatballs behind the Italian restaurant, the immigrant cook and waiter Joey and Tony serenade the canine couple with the lovely “Bella Notte.”  We all know how it goes.  Tramp noses the meatball in her direction before they both take a bite of the spaghetti strand unaware that they are munching on the same noodle.  They come together and accidentally have their first kiss.  Then the focus falls on Lady who, just as the song reaches “Look at the skies, they have stars in their eyes,” we see stars in Lady’s eyes as the camera pulls up to the full moon.  The moment is almost Chaplin-esque in it’s simplicity.  Where some films meander and philosophize about love and romance, here is a movie that draws it in broad strokes and the effect is simply beautiful.

That simplicity is the movie’s masterstroke.  Lady and the Tramp deals with, more or less, adult issues but in a way that a child could identify.  It sees their world in microcosm with adult human being the far distant mystery and romance being an even greater mystery.  Grown-ups are seen in fleeting glances and their conversations are only as half-understood as their intentions.  That the movie allows children to see the adult world through the eyes of a dog is another great element.  It allows us to understand why we feel so close to our childhood pets.  Why and how they are as baffled by the world as we are is one great mystery that the moment muses over.  Its why we connect with our pets.  The love is pure and uncomplicated.  All it takes is the wag of a tail.

 

The Persistence of Disney, Part 15: Peter Pan (1953)

peter-pan

If James Barrie hadn’t invented Peter Pan then his adventures might just as well have come from the mind of Walt Disney.  The story of the adventures in the far away Neverland with the pixie boy who never grew up and does battle with the hook-handed pirate Captain Hook seems right up the animator’s alley.  Stories like this seem to have been the tapestry of the books that Disney devoured as a child; he spent much of his career adapting those books into the visual animated medium.  Yet, adaptation was a tricky venture.  At the time (and, in fact, even today) he earned scowls from the literary community over his perceived mishandling of Alice in Wonderland.  However, in adapting Barrie’s classic stage production, he wisely reorganized the story so that it could be properly transferred to the screen.  Of this, literary critics were far less harsh.

As with Snow White, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland adapting Peter Pan to the animated form was in Disney’s plans from the start.  In fact, he had intended it to be his second feature (it would eventually be his fourteenth), but his plans were put on hold due to the an establishment in Barrie’s will that bequeathed the rights to the play to The Great Ormand Street Hospital, a children’s hospital in the Bloomsbury section of London.  Disney spent four years negotiating a deal to be able to adapt it for the screen.  In that time, his feature plans were put on hold due to World War II.

Perhaps it was for the best because the story needed a proper adaptation.  Disney’s reorganizing of the stage play works to the film’s great advantage.  The most noticeable difference is the fate of Tinkerbell.  In the stage play, Tink is wounded and clings to life which inspires Peter to famously break the fourth-wall and plead with the audience to clap their hands in order to bring her around.  For a live audience, this may work but in a movie theater it might feel awkward especially today with the film screened on home video.  So he made the wise decision to remove that element.

On the stage, Tinkerbell was never seen save for a small bit of light.  Here, for the first time, we actually get to see her and in giving her a form, she is also given a personality.  She’s a full-blooded character with a bold personality despite the fact that she never speaks a word.  Her eyes, her body language and her movements speak volumes.  She’s temperamental and often her actions reflect this as when she becomes angry and burns a hole in a leaf by flying through it.  This is something that only animation could capture.  We get close in so that we become part of her wordless experience.  Her facial expressions speak volumes.  Compare this with the awkward live-action performance of Julia Roberts in Hook and you’ll see what I mean.

Peter himself is given an upgrade too, as this was the first time that he was actually played by a male actor.  On stage Peter has always been played such varied actresses as Jean Arthur, Veronica Lake, Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby and more recently by Allison Williams.  So, in casting Bobby Driscoll as the voice, we get our first male representation of the character and what we get is rather interesting.  The voice is not a child per se; it is not girlish but that of a boy whose voice has most recently moved into adolescence.  It’s deep but still squeaky; you can sense that it has a long way to go.  Attitude wise, the boy who never grew up seems to have stopped growing deep into the stage of prepubescent cynicism.  He’s immature particularly in his regards to Wendy and to woman-kind in general.

This is a very male-centric picture.  Watching the film again I realize that its aim seems squarely at young boys, which is a switch from previous pictures like Snow White and Cinderella which seemed to be aimed at girls.  There’s rough-housing and swordfights (both for play and to the death) but any romantic notions are chucked right out the door.  Romantic notions seem to be in the Disney pantheon, already this decade there’s been Cinderella and it is the call of the next two pictures Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty.  In Peter Pan, the love angle is treated more as a problem as the affliction that is cause for jealousy on the part of the women-folk.  Captain Hook even says “A jealous female can be tricked into anything.”

In my evaluation of Disney’s animated features up to this point, I’ve noted how female-centric Disney’s stories tend to be, and yet they are always movies of their time in which the aim of all female characters is to find their prince and get married.  Here the female characters don’t come off very well.  Wendy is tasked with looking over the lost boys and becoming the mother figure they apparently never had.  Tinkerbell meanwhile spends much of the film in a jealous snit over Peter’s association with Wendy.  And the mermaid’s come into the picture with the function of fawning over Peter and making fun of Wendy.  She seems the straight-man, for lack of a better word.  She isn’t much removed from the Alice character and, in fact, is voice by Katherine Beaumont, who voiced both characters.  She’s there to be the sensible fulcrum to the story, she’s fascinated by the magical landscape that she finds herself in but she finds herself the whipping post for most of the inhabitance there.

Peter’s reaction to Wendy kind of surprised me.  He’s dismissive.  He regards her more as a bothersome older sister than a potential lover.  When they meet, she kindly offers to sew his shadow onto his feet but when she tries to make small talk he disregards it with “Girls talk too much.”  When she formally introduces herself as Wendy Moira Angela Darling he interrupts her with “Wendy’s enough.”  That’s an interesting approach because it would have been obvious to make him interested in the girl, but since he is the product of stunted maturity, he remains in a space that boys experience just before hormones kick in and girls forever after become of glorious and fascinating mystery.

As a romance the movie founders but as an adventure story the movie rises to the top.  Disney’s version of Peter Pan is a red-blooded adventure teeming with atmosphere, fun and excitement; filled with dread and wonderment, action and suspense, wondrous and fearsome creatures, magic and mayhem.  If Cinderella and Snow White were (for better or worse) fantasies for girls, then Peter Pan contains the kinds of adventures that boys devoured in books like “Treasure Island” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”  Revisiting the film I was kind of stunned at just how full this movie is.  It has pirates and fairies and mermaids and battleships and flying and swordfights and slapstick and drama.  As I said it’s light on the romance but who needs mushy stuff in a movie with pirates?

The geography of Neverland itself is made up and of counties and states the seem like broken off pieces of a boy’s imagination; Cannibal Cove, Mermaid Lagoon, Blindman’s Bluff, Peg Leg Point.  There’s even a place called Hangman’s Tree.  It’s all so neatly laid out.  It’s one of those great spaces in the movies that you’d like to visit.  That’s rare.

Just as much as the adventure story works so too are the songs.  Critic Roger Ebert dismissed the music as forgettable, especially the song “We’re following the leader.”  I would disagree on this count due to the fact that I think the song sounds very much like the kind of thing that young boys would invent while playing in the back yard.  No, it’s not “Someday My Prince Will Come,” but it isn’t meant to be.   Neither is “You Can Fly,” the film’s signature song.  That song, for me, is kind of magical.  It swirls and flies with the lyrics so you feel the weightlessness of Peter and Wendy and John and Michael as they fly over London.  I was taken aback by this especially in an era when most songs in animated features are just grafted onto the film without any kind of integration.

Peter Pan also continues to a new trend for Disney that was introduced in Alice in Wonderland.  This is the fourteenth of Disney animated theatrical features and up until Alice in Wonderland, the previous endeavor, the villains were all fearsome creatures like the evil queen in Snow White, the Coachman in Pinocchio and the headless horseman in Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  Beginning with Alice in Wonderland, the villains would be comic foils.  Alice had the Queen of Hearts, a screaming brat who enjoyed dolling out beheadings.  Here the villain is the foppish Captain Hook, a vengeful pirate desperate to find Peter’s hideout but always foiled, not just by the pixie hero, but by his deathly fear of the crocodile that once consumed his hand and is always lurking around hoping to claim the rest.

Voiced by the great Hans Conried, Hook is not a terror of the seas but more of a buffoon hell-bent on revenge.  He’s just right for this story as the villain in a boy’s adventure story.  Yes, he does evil things like shooting a crew member for playing a jaunty tune, but his vile machinations are easily beaten back.  He advances on Peter at one point when the boy’s back is turned but suddenly the crocodile makes an entrance and Hook is sent running for the hills and always screaming for his first mate.  My favorite character in the movie is Hook’s roly poly first mate Mr. Smee whose demeanor is so passive and good–natured that it is to wonder if he knows who is working for.  Voiced by the invaluable Bill Thompson, most famous as the voice of Droopy, there’s something wonderfully naïve in the voice, something pathetically sagging.

And speaking of pathetic, let us now deal with the film’s nadir.  I mentioned earlier that the film’s view of women is sorely lacking but it is not quite as appalling as the film’s view of Native Americans.  Decades before the bullet train of political correctness the images of other cultures in the movies were brought to life by stereotypes, often to an appalling effect.  The Native American characters here are more or less a compendium of all of the worst elements of the culture given to us by Hollywood.  Their song “What Made the Red Man Red?” is more or less a collection of this.  The characters aren’t really seen as people but a stand-in for what we thought of Native Americans at the time.  They are stereo-types, there’s no doubt about that, but one doesn’t feel any measure of the people.  In my review of Dumbo I spoke about how the crows, while branded as black stereotypes, were at least emblematic of the Harlem Renaissance through their song and their use of language.  There’s no such valid argument here.  There’s no sense of the culture or the people beyond the stereotypes.  The best you can say about the Native Americans in Peter Pan is that at least they are not blood thirsty savages, nor are they portrayed as villains.  They play with The Lost Boys in a game of who can capture who so there’s a bit of friendly fun in their approach to the white man.  Still, however, modern audiences (myself included) cringe at the war paint and the pidgin English.  The liberal in me is bound to be appalled by this misrepresentation, yet the pacifist in me is bound to suggest that the only way to deal with this when showing the film to a child is to open a dialogue about the fact that this is a stereotype of what we thought of Native Americans at the time – that these attitudes are no longer valid.

If the stereotypes represent the worst and most dated element of Peter Pan, the theme of maturity is probably its best asset.  This is very much a story about growing up.  We spend a great deal of time in Neverland, a place where growing up is nearly non-existent.  The story sees the patterns of growing up from three different viewpoints.  Peter will never grow up.  Wendy is melancholy about the prospect of growing up.  And her father George begins the film by being frustrated that his children aren’t trying to grow up but in the end comes to understand the importance of having an inner child.  That’s a pretty complex approach.  Most Disney films explore a theme from one point of view but this film sees it from several points of view and that gives the film a complexity that you don’t expect.  What does it mean to grow up?  Does it mean that we throw away all manner of childhood?

In studying these questions I thought of the verse from 1 Corinthians that tells us that “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  This is a cold-water treatment to the ideas that Peter Pan is trying to formulate.  If we think hard abou the character, none will ever completely grow up.  Peter is the boy who never grew up.  Wendy will grow up and have her own children as well as nieces, nephews and eventually grandchildren and likely relive her childhood through them.  George will likely be a grandfather and will experience a bit of childhood through them as well.  In that way, none will ever truly be without the gift of an inner childhood.  It will be experience in one way or another.  That’s a tender thought and a lovely message.  When you become a man, do you really ever put away childish things?  If you do, then it’s a sad lot in life.  I find a lot of greatness in being an adult and one of those things is having the wisdom to cull such a message from Disney’s work, but still being tender-hearted enough to enjoy them as much as I did when I was a kid.

While the film was a box office success and is today hailed as a Disney classic (are there any that aren’t?), many critics have dismissed it as not really following the same great tradition as Pinocchio or Snow White.  Ebert made this abundantly clear in his review on “Siskel and Ebert” in which he admitted that it was a lot of fun but not exactly in the tradition of the great Disney classics.  True, it is a straight-forward retelling of Barrie’s classic and not exactly experimental.  But I stand with Leonard Maltin who said in his book “The Disney Films” that “It seems unfair to criticize the film for what it isn’t when it is such an unpretentious, delightful endeavor.”  I agree with Maltin’s assessment.  No, it isn’t Pinocchio but the movie is so much fun that it hardly even matters.  I myself have criticized the film on many counts (many in the paragraphs above) but I have to admit that I found the film a lot more fun than I remember it.  It’s a full-blooded adventure story packed to the gills with giddy charm.  Despite my problems with the film as a whole, I can watch it and get caught up in its spell, the childishly delightful spell.  It makes me feel like a kid all over again, and gives me the comfort that even though I’ve become a man; I don’t always have to put away childish things.

 
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Posted by on 10/09/2016 in Uncategorized

 

The Persistence of Disney, Part 14: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

alice-in-wonderland

One constant in the story of Walt Disney seems to have been an ever-persistent passion for Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”  That is reasonable because, for a visual storyteller, it might have seemed irresistible.  It is said that Disney read the book as a child and was so captivated by its bizarre and clever world that it stayed with him ever-after.  When he broke into motion pictures as a young man he made it his mission to bring the story to the screen.  His attempt to visualize Carroll’s world stretches all the way back to the 1920s when, through his short-lived Laugh-O-Gram Studios, Disney created a series called The Alice Comedies featuring a live-action actress having misadventures in a cartoon world.  Later he would loosely adapt Lewis Carroll’s story into a 1936 short called Thru the Mirror with Mickey Mouse in the Alice role.  A feature seemed inevitable.

In the late 1930s, after the enormous success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt was eager to get down to the serious business of adapting Alice in Wonderland but his plans were put on hold by creative difficulties, budgetary problems and a halt on major projects due to the intrusion of a rather bitter sequel to World War I.  Once the war had ended and he could go back to making feature-length animated movies, Walt made the film a priority.  This was a daunting task.  Carroll’s book doesn’t exactly lend itself to a three-act structure and is therefore not an easy transference to a visual medium.  The book is not intended to be visual; it’s more a play on nonsense words, rhymes, riddles and songs.  Putting the book to the screen would take a lot of time and a lot of talent.

What Disney was able to put together is probably as good a version of Carroll’s book as has ever been rendered for the screen.  In fact, despite a great deal of criticism both casual and professional, I think it’s rather brilliant.  It is a vibrant, lively, colorful journey that doesn’t subsist on a trajectory but is more a collection of strange events and dysfunctional characters.  You remember the journey but you don’t really remember the ending because it doesn’t really matter.  It’s not the point.

A lot of the criticism comes from the fact that the movie is so episodic, that the events of Alice’s journey happen and are then unceremoniously abandoned.  Those looking for a firm narrative structure find themselves frustrated.  Some Disney purist decry the film for not having a heart.  I cannot agree.  The world inside this movie, while maddening, doesn’t need a heart.  I think the point of the journey is that Alice has found herself in a world in which time and space seem to have no meaning.  Here the landscape is dotted with silly and bizarre creatures made up of words and songs, of strange and bizarre creatures that appear and disappear at will.  It is almost as if Alice has landed in a world of literary run-off, as if she’s found herself in a dumping ground of rejected ideas ejected from much more structured material.  Therefore that’s no shape or structure; it’s just a maddening series of events.

The world that surrounds these kooky characters is the work of a conceptual artist named Mary Blair who worked with Walt Disney not only on Alice but also on Peter Pan, Cinderella and Song of the South.  Her style of bold colors may have come from her exposure to the landscapes in South America when she traveled with Walt on the good will tours of the early ‘40s wherein Disney made Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.  For Alice she came up with an interesting style of allowing the colors to pop by keeping the backgrounds very black.  The choice is interesting because it plays to the feeling of abandonment of the characters.  If Wonderland is a literary dumping ground then we might imagine that sunlight and colorful backgrounds would not be part of the tapestry.

Each of the characters has a quirk but not really a personality and that’s kind of the point.  Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum arrive in the film to sing songs and to tell Alice the story of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”  The Mad Hatter and The March Hare are only present to have a tea party, a maddening pitch of nonsense in which a lot of tea is poured but none is ever consumed.  The Cheshire Cat only serves as a smart-allecky rendering of double-talk and physical manifestation and decombobulation that has no rhyme or reason.  The caterpillar is a hooka enthusiast with a penchant for obvious questions.  The Queen of Hearts has a decapitation fetish.  And, of course, The White Rabbit is very late indeed.  What he’s late for – and the reason he’s so panicked about getting to his destination – is probably the only thing in the film that makes any grounded sense.

What is interesting about these characters is that we never really understand their motives.  Are they leading Alice astray?  Are they dangerous?  Some seem cool while others seem loaded with hostility, though we can never figure out which is a threat and which is just passively insane.

The central element that, I think, makes the movie work is Alice herself.  She’s been criticized as being rather flat and dull and surprisingly unaffected by the bizarre events and characters that she comes across, yet I don’t find that to be the case at all.  Alice is an anchor to the story yet she’s not a lead weight.  She is a sensible yet imaginative girl whose presence in Wonderland is seen through her eyes.  She is not horrified by what she sees, in fact much of the time she’s kind of fascinated.  There is a rounded character here but she isn’t drawn with broad strokes.  You do have to look for the edges.  She nice and polite, but she can become frustrated.  There are moments when she is appalled by massive breaches in etiquette and characters that would rather frustrate her journey then helpfully assist.  Of this we understand the moments when she becomes angry and tries to fight back.  In a strange way, she and her adventure are very much like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, both are flung to a far-off world of color and nonsense and whimsical characters, though I think dear Dorothy at least had the aid of friends to guide her.

This is odd to say but I think I felt more for Alice then I have for any of the previous Disney heroines that I’ve examined so far.  Though there are things to like about Snow White and Cinderella, there is nothing about them that I can really relate to.  There is a moment in the movie when Alice gives me a moment that I kind of understand.  Late in the film when she has become exhausted and frustrated by the world that she has come to inhabit, she walks through Wonderland’s impenetrable forest looking for some clarity.  Suddenly a strange bird made of eyeglasses lands on her face.  At a moment of weary emotional fatigue, she removes the bird from her face and places it on a nearby branch quietly pleading, “No, no please.”  I can relate to that.  I’ve had days when the world seems determined to be especially unyielding and you just want a moment of normalcy to get your head together.

In that way, I can relate to Alice.  She’s trying to be herself and trying to be ingratiating to the world that she now inhabits even though she is forced to be a tenant in a disturbing universe that resists any measure of assistance or friendliness.  Every character here is after their own ends and seems to have an agenda that makes little to no sense.  We’ve all felt like that.  We’ve all had those days when the world seems to make no sense and those around us seem patently determined to be the thorn in our foot.  Even though Alice resides in a world of nonsense, I see myself in her shoes more that I could understand the domestic abuse of Cinderella or the killer’s kiss that looms over Snow White.

As I have said, the film was criticized for being far too episodic and noisy for its own good.  Disney historian Leonard Maltin, in his book “The Disney Films, says “Alice in Wonderland is a very flashy and generally entertaining film but it lacks that essential thread that made Disney’s best features hang together, and moreover it lacks, warmth.”  Even Ward Kimball who animated Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum was dismissive of the final product: “It degenerated into a loud-mouthed Vaudeville show.  It lacks warmth and an overall story glue.’  He blamed too many directors and too many hands getting in the way of a solid story.  On both counts, I disagree.  This is not a story about warmth; it’s a story about a girl trying to make sense of a world made up of screwy nonsense.  If it had more emotional weight, then the coldness of the world would be less effective and there would be less motivation for Alice to press on.

As I watched the film again the other night I was captivated.  All the problems that the detractors had push on the film didn’t really bother me.  I found the film to be a journey, much like Dorothy’s Adventure in Oz.  She meets a lot of strange characters and tries to make sense of a world of nonsense and even runs afoul of a tyrant that wants to do her some harm.  The movie doesn’t need sentiment nor a straight-forward narrative.  Personally, I think the movie may have been ahead of its time.  While it was not a massive hit upon first release in 1951, it was reassessed during the cultural art movements of the 1960s where the film was seen as a psychedelic trip.  I stand with those who came to appreciate it.  I see what is special about it, I know what makes the film work.  It’s a journey, a good one, and I’ll gladly take it again.