Today In Disney History ~ July 28th
Alice in Wonderland is a 1951 American animated musical fantasy-comedy film produced by Walt Disney Productions and based on the Alice books by Lewis Carroll. The 13th of Disney’s animated features, the film premiered in New York City and London on July 26, 1951. The film features the voices of Kathryn Beaumont as Alice, Sterling Holloway as the Cheshire Cat, Verna Felton as the Queen of Hearts, and Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter.
Walt Disney first attempted unsuccessfully to adapt Alice into an animated feature film during the 1930s. However, he finally revived the idea in the 1940s. The film was originally intended to be a live-action/animated film; however, Disney decided to make it an all-animated feature in 1946. The theme song of the same name has since become a jazz standard. While the film was critically panned on its initial release, the movie proved to be ahead of its time and has since been regarded as one of Disney’s greatest animated classics, notably one of the biggest cult classics in the animation medium, as well as one of the best film adaptations of Alice.
At the time, these creative decisions were met with great criticism from Carroll fans, as well as from British film and literary critics 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 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 there was no “warmth” in Alice’s character.
Almost two decades after its original release, after the North American success of George Dunning’s animated film Yellow Submarine (1968), 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. Disney resisted this association, and even withdrew prints of the film from universities, but then, in 1974, Disney 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. Its first UK re-release was on July 26, 1979.
Later, with the advent of the home video market, Disney chose to make Alice in Wonderland one of the first titles available for the rental market on VHS and Beta and for retail sale on RCA’s short-lived CED Videodisc format. The film was released on October 15, 1981 on VHS, CED Videodisc, and Betamax and May 28, 1986 on VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc in the Walt Disney Classics, (though it was mastered for tape in 1985), staying in general release ever since, with a 40th Anniversary video release in 1991 (this and the 1986 video release were in Disney’s Classics Collection), followed by an October 28, 1994 October 14, 1997 VHS and Laserdisc release as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection.VHS and Laserdisc release as a part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. It was released on Region 1 DVD on July 4, 2000 (under the Gold Classic Collection DVD series). A fully restored two-disc “Masterpiece Edition” was released on January 27, 2004, including the full hour-long episode of the Disney television show with Kathryn Beaumont, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, Bobby Driscoll and others that promoted the film, computer games, deleted scenes, songs and related materials, which went back on moratorium in January 2009. Disney released a 2-disc special “Un-Anniversary” edition DVD on March 30, 2010 in order to promote the then-new Tim Burton film. The movie was released in a Blu-ray/DVD combo on February 1, 2011 to celebrate its 60th anniversary featuring a new HD restoration of the movie and many released bonus features. Disney re-released the film on Blu-ray and DVD on April 26, 2016 to celebrate the film’s 65th anniversary.
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