Disney’s Alice in Wonderland – A Belated Movie Review

What it’s like to watch Disney’s Alice in Wonderland for the first time as an adult.

True confession time: I, who profess to be completely obsessed with Alice in Wonderland – truly, an enthusiast bordering on fanatic – I, until last week, had never seen Disney’s 1951 classic film Alice in Wonderland.

How is this possible? I have no idea. It certainly seems like I should have come across it at some point in my childhood. I wasn’t raised in an anti-TV household, or in the Eastern Bloc. I was certainly aware of the iconic image of Alice in her Disney blue dress with her flowing blonde locks. I knew Disney’s White Rabbit wore glasses and was “Late, late, for a very important date!” I was even familiar with the Very Merry Unbirthday song. But unless my memory epically fails me (which is not unprecedented), I never actually saw the film. Oddly enough, I saw the musical, celebrity-studded 1985 Alice in Wonderland TV movie over and over again as a kid (yay for VCRs!). But Disney’s classic take eluded me. Around twenty years ago (!), my mother gave me a VHS version for my birthday, but for some reason I never watched it… NOT UNTIL NOW.

Disney's Alice in Wonderland on VHS

Since burned to DVD.

I was very much looking forward to finally watching the movie, as I feel like most of my contemporaries are more familiar with the Disney movie than with the Alice books. I wondered if it was the movie that informed so many people’s opinion of Wonderland being creepy or scary. SO, I sat down with my notebook, having every intention of writing a very detailed review, complete with timestamped thoughts. I quickly gave up on this idea, as my movie review can be summed up in one word: SHRILL. As in, “My gosh, the Tweedles are shrill.” “Ugh, this tea party is so shrill.” “The Dormouse is adorable- wait, now he’s shrill too!” “Why is everybody so shrill????”

That’s not exactly fair, of course. There is more to the movie than its shrillness. Some of the imagery is absolutely breathtaking: Alice falling down the rabbit hole, floating inside a glass bottle in the pool of tears and especially looking through the keyhole at herself sleeping. Pretty little details, such as the way her dress settles when she sits, abound.

Alice looks at herself through the keyhole in Disney's Alice in Wonderland

Worth the price of admission.

I loved seeing the characters that I had seen pictured for so long become, literally, animated. But I seriously couldn’t get past the shrillness. Almost very character besides Alice had a grating, unpleasant voice that just wore on me. The Bambi, Dumbo and Snow White movies aren’t shrill. Why’s Alice gotta be so shrill? I don’t know if the filmmakers thought, “This story’s crazy! We’ve got to make it sound crazy every chance we get!” I just know I personally could have done without so many characters shouting in my face. A side note, lest I sound too negative: I know a lot of purists don’t approve of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland combining aspects from both of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. This did not bother me in the least.

What were my other thoughts on Disney’s Alice in Wonderland? Let’s go direct to the notebook, shall we?

Notes on Disney's Alice in Wonderland

A true scholar at work.

Trouble reading my horrible handwriting? Here’s a selection of notes with the added bonus of legibility.
This opening song is great!
Similar in tone to the book, until the caucus race.
Little baby oysters!
Baby flowers = creepy.
This is trippy as sh*^
Tulgey Wood is full of cray cray birds.
It was fun when the cards shuffled.
Tiny king is weird.
Who are the Mellomen?

In answer to that last question: The Mellomen were a singing quartet that were featured in many Disney movies in addition to Alice in Wonderland, including Lady and the Tramp, The Jungle Book and Peter Pan. They were also in a bunch of Elvis movies, and stuck around as a group until the mid-70s!

Back to Disney’s Alice in Wonderland… has anyone else watched it recently? Did you find it as shrill as I did, or do you think I am a big jerkface for concentrating on that (negative) aspect in my review? Don’t be shy, tell me in the comments below!

About Heather Haigha

Heather Haigha is your intrepid guide for all adventures under ground, through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole and sometimes even real life! Read her whimsical musings on the Alice Is Everywhere blog, and hear the melodious sound of her voice on the Alice is Everywhere podcast.