Disney provide the now-obligatory option of side-panels of specially commissioned artwork to fill out the image on the screen on either side of the 1.33:1 frame of the film. I have been a big fan of this since the start, and this presentation, whilst perhaps not quite as fitting towards the overtly garish colours of the movie, is still my preferred way of viewing.
Out of the Blu-rays released so far under the classic animated Disney label – and I think I've got them all, actually – Alice In Wonderland is possibly the most contentious, in my opinion. Let's be clear, though, all of the studio's animated classics look simply gorgeous – but both Sleeping Beauty, aspect ratio and all, and now Alice look the most aesthetically different to their umpteen original incarnations, with the hi-def scrub-up that Alice has received being perhaps the most immediately radical to behold.
Technically, this is faultless, of course. But you knew that already. Disney don't tend to muck their hallowed productions up. You won't find any banding or smearing going on. There is no noise, and no black crushing. Edges are crisp and cleanly delineated without being haloed or polished up with any ringing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the saturation of the colours, all of which conspire together to give the impression that Disney has simply hauled down a rainbow and melted it into a vast cooking pot into which their artists have dipped their brushes. Motion is fast and fluid and totally smooth. There's no aliasing, drag or stutter.
But Alice looks so spotless, so gleaming and resplendent, so eye-poppingly colourful and vibrant, that it just doesn't look like organic animation any more. The restoration has lifted all texture from the film. Movement still has that robust, exaggerated and bouncy form, but it just looks cleaner, shinier and more synthetic. Arguably, Alice In Wonderland is a film that benefits from such a gleaming visual palette, far more than, say, Snow White, Dumbo or Bambi, which thrive on depth and texture, but the abundance of crisp, evenly spread radiance is something that, quite ironically, leaches the film of some of its character. Everything is too neat, too shiny. But I am willing to concede that, after I had grown used to it, I became smitten with the new look … and I have no doubt that you will too.
So, the colours leap spectacularly from the screen. We understand that. But how do the blacks perform? Well, they are incredibly deep and so strong that they, too, almost shine as though buffed-up with parade gloss polish. Other darker aspects are handled equally as well, and contrast is never less than spot-on. This is an incredibly bright looking image, but the transfer never once botches such intensity, and the picture never looks hot or glaring.
Let's put it this way … if you walk in the room and this disc is playing, you will instantly mesmerised. It is a jaw-dropper, folks, and no mistake. Hi-def sheen and all, this gets a glowing 9 out of 10 from me.
You can't complain about the splendid audio presentation afforded Alice's adventures. Coming at us with a perfectly balanced DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, the film bristles with the songs and the inane banter of lunacy. The soundtrack isn't exactly one that requires the extension for the rear speakers, and yet when they carry the odd effect, or help to embellish the musical score from Oliver Wallace, the feeling of viewer immersion is surprisingly well rendered, although still quite restricted.
There is a rich variety of vocal talent on offer, and the transfer copes admirably with the slew of chitter-chatter, squawking, laughing and singing. Dialogue, though, can still have that opaque and tinny quality that is a hallmark of the era, especially those beautific and impeccably polite tones of Kathryn Beaumont, but there is never any instance when speech is muffled or swamped. The spread across the front isn't particularly grand in the way of separation, and there is not a great deal of spatial depth, but the result is still a wonderfully clean and clear presentation that enjoys the clash of cymbals, the odd buffering of delinquent lampoonery, and some nice crisp orchestral “tooting” and whistling during the Walrus and the Carpenter section. Some occasional weight is felt with the few impacts, but this is not a dynamic sounding track. This said, there is still a lot of activity going on within the limited soundfield, and the film comes alive with more vigour than it ever has done before.
This region-free UK disc does not appear to have the film's original audio track on it, unlike the US counterpart. All in all, this gets a good, strong 7 out of 10.
All aboard who's coming aboard! Disney have well and truly pushed the supplementary boat out with this lot. We get the film on Blu-ray and then the freshly restored DVD version can also be found on a separate disc.
The Blu-ray features these exclusive specials -
In lieu of a proper interactive PiP track, Disney supplies us with Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland, a best-of-all-worlds version of the film that sits in part of the screen whilst we hear an excellent biography of Lewis Carroll from experts, as well as copious trivia about Disney and how his studio brought the film to life. The talking-heads are often embellished with illustrations, photographs and excerpts from letters etc, to help pepper the experience with incidentals. Personally, I found this to be an excellent creation and production chronicle. There is a degree of schmaltz, but this is Disney, when all said and done, and the piece is packed with interesting information. Well worth your time.
Alice and the Doorknob offers us the live action reference that Kathryn Beaumont did for the animators. Although lasting for only just over a minute, Beaumont introduces the clip and delivers a commentary for it, as well. To add to this, we also get to see a Pencil Test for Alice Shrinking, introduced by Beaumont.
Painting the Roses Red is fitting little game that has you trying to score points for painting the white roses on a tree with red paint, in the fewest moves.
We also get to see Walt Disney as he provides an Introduction to a TV broadcast of the film from 1959.
The rest of the features should now be familiar to fans, as they hail from the previous edition of the film on DVD.
Reflections on Alice is a 13-minute reminiscence from Beaumont and some of the artists about the production of the film. Operation Wonderland lasts for 11 minutes and is a contemporary promotional piece in which James Melton gets a run-through of the film's live action reference shooting, some rough animation and then is finally treated to the final look of such industrious work. Good vintage material.
We get some Deleted Scenes featuring storyboards for some ideas that were ultimately dropped, and there's a chance to hear some excised song material, including the newly discovered Cheshire Cat ditty, “I'm Odd”. Mickey Mouse appears in a cartoon based around Carroll's creation and in Alice's Wonderland we get to see one of Walt Disney's silent interpretations of the material.
One Hour In Wonderland, a vintage TV Christmas Special in the company of Uncle Walt and few of his performers, The Fred Waring Show (a Wonderland-themed excerpt running for a half hour) from the film's 1951 promotional junket, theatrical trailers, Walt's TV introductions, a couple of games and a whopping big Art Gallery pretty much cover everything that you would care to know about how Disney got this adventure in absurdity off the ground.
It is a fantastic line-up of extras, folks … and, hey, I've probably missed a few things out, too. There's just so much stuff. A real treat, though.
Alice In Wonderland is the very essence of childhood. All of its anxieties, woes, mysteries, magic and innocent interpretations of a devoutly sinister world surface here in Disney's painstakingly constructed visual smorgasbord of Carrol's absurd prose. It is the perfect tune-in, chill-out experience of sensory overload and stimuli-excess. It doesn't make any sense. Or it does. Or doesn't it? Whatever. It is a film that is unclouded by subtext and metaphor if you don't want it to be. Or it can be any form of psychological dissection of morality, disassociation, alienation, longing or familial isolation that you could wish for. Which is precisely why the film, as well as the book, can be loved and adored by simply anybody, any age, any religion, any world-view. Alice In Wonderland offers up ideas and food for thought with every passing frame – should you desire such things. Or, it is merely an astoundingly colourful, intensely energetic and schizophrenic romp through the permeable membranes of the imagination.
And it all looks astounding on Blu-ray. My opinion is that it doesn't seem as faithful as I had hoped – the image all high-sheen, drip-dry super-gloss that looks a little sterile and could take a bit of getting used to. But there is no escaping the riotous allure of retina-poking primaries and a picture that is a work of art come to bold and expressive life. The UK disc misses the original audio track, but the new lossless mix is still great fun and doesn't make any demands on the source that come over as either bogus or unnecessary. And the extras are a fan's delight.
Alice In Wonderland is a delinquent delight and one of the most riotously colourful feathers in Disney's cap. Highly recommended.
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