Expert Witness: "Alice in Wonderland: 60th Anniversary"
Here's what the experts say on the Blu-ray debut of the Disney animated classic
Disney’s 1951 animated adaptation of both of Lewis Carroll's Alice novels ("The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass") streamlines the story for a trippy bounce down the rabbit hole. A flop upon release, it was rediscovered by the drug generation in the sixties and finally embraced as a Disney classic-lite by subsequent generations. You could see it as a juvenile acid trip: innocent little Alice imbibes strange food and drink which makes her grow and shrink, talks with a cat that has a tendency to dissolve in front of her eyes and takes advice from a caterpillar puffing on a water pipe. But let's not get too far down that path.
Like most of Disney's animated features, it gets rolled out every seven years or so in a new edition. This year it bows on Blu-ray in a brilliant new master. For this look, I turn to the experts for guidance.
"Quite a massive jump in color saturation and vibrancy in the new 1080P transfer of Disney's 51' classic Alice in Wonderland," writes Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver, a site that specializes in measuring and surveying the technical quality of the discs under scrutiny. "Reds, blues and yellows are notable improvements, there are no unseemly jaggies - as well as a dramatic improvement - it looks flawless - almost as if it were brand new." A gallery of screen shots from the new Blu-ray edition and the previous DVD releases contrasts the visual quality and the palette, with the Blu-ray indeed brighter, sharper and more cleanly saturated.
"To be clear, these are not restorations, although the resultant images are crisp, clean, clear and perfect to the nth degree," insists archivist/film restoration guru Robert Harris in his "A Few Words About…" take on the new release at Home Theater Forum. "What they are, are new editions, in some ways a new interpretation, based upon the original elements, but purposely created for a new audience, with gorgeous colors and perfectly stable images."
That began a lively discussion on the Home Theater Forum message board, with Stephen Worth, Director of the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, taking the con side in the (civil and respectful) debate. "The history of animation is culturally significant, and Disney's contribution is a very important element of it. There is absolutely no difference between recoloring "Fantasia" and "Alice in Wonderland" and colorizing "Citizen Kane"," he argues, pointing to the shifts in hue, brightness and intensity of color. And in another post: "These people didn't make these films and they don't have the moral right to rework and rethink the creative decisions made by the original creators."
The very question of Disney's responsibility as stewards of the company's legacy of animation is at the heart of this debate and it's a discussion that needs to continue (and not just on Disney's animated classics) as the technology changes and tools improve.
Meanwhile, getting back to the film itself, let me direct your attention to my colleague Glenn Erickson, aka DVD Savant at DVD Talk. "Disney's 1951 Alice in Wonderland has to rank as an also-ran among the showman's great animated films. The story just doesn't want to fit into his Happy Musical Fairyland Format. The movie is beautifully animated and several of the Carroll characters are superbly conceived. But the Disney Magic isn't all there. In some cases it's because he sticks to the original story and in others it's because he wanders far afield."
And as for the master: "The transfer is fall-down gorgeous, much sharper than earlier video editions, with colors that don't bleed and blacks that show hints of shadows within shadows."
That's a perspective I can respect.
The new Blu-ray+DVD Combo pack also includes new featurettes, interactive functions and archival material (including pencil tests and reference footage) exclusive to this release plus bonus animated shorts and featurettes from the previous DVD releases.