There are so many childhood staples that I realize I missed out on while growing up, it’s hard to know how I managed to develop any kind of social cognition. I watched a bunch of Disney cartoons as a kid, and I read a fair amount of books (I think — I’m learning that a lot of my modern-day peers put my history with the written word to utter shame). But somehow, I don’t remember ever sitting through Walt Disney’s 1951 classic film adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland,” and I definitely know I never paged through Lewis Carroll’s original work.
Carroll’s story, published in 1865, is one of the most widely known children’s stories to this day. Originally titled “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” it tells about a wondering girl named Alice follows a white rabbit in a waistcoat down its hole, tumbling into the wacky and nonsensical world of Wonderland. She comes across several strange characters — from the inquisitorial Caterpillar to the Mad Hatter, from the infuriating Red Queen to the mystifying Cheshire Cat — and has a lot of strange things happen to her, including constant growing and shrinking and engaging in battles of flawed logic and songs with the wrong lyrics. Eventually, Alice awakes in the same place she was before her adventure started.
Most adaptations of the story, including the Disney cartoon, also borrow from Carroll’s sequel novel, “Through the Looking-Glass.” In it, Alice returns to Wonderland via a mirror and meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum, comes across an unbirthday celebration and encounters a garden of talking flowers. The cartoon also, naturally, includes several memorable musical numbers, all of which fit the tone of Carroll’s work.
While not all of the events and lines are translated to the cartoon, it does a remarkably good job of harkening to the themes and stylings of the book. The twisted logic shows up in conversations Alice has with the Cheshire Cat — featured more prominently than he is in the book — and the Mad Hatter and March Hare, even if the exact dialogue is different. The climactic trial at the end is included in the book, as well, though unrelated to the ill-fated croquet match.
The one big change is a scene before Alice meets the Red Queen, in which she is trying to find her way home and ends up getting lost (in large part because of the ridiculous creatures creating and erasing the path along the way). Alice breaks down and cries over her predicament, just wishing she could find her way home, which seems more like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” than the girl who’s always wandering off looking to fill her imagination. Alice in the book never even thinks about back home (unless she’s talking about her cat Dinah), and just kind of wakes up once the cards start attacking her at the end of her trial. The scene works all right with the kind of tale Disney wanted to tell, but I prefer the accepted extended nonsense of the book more.
As for Disney’s later return to Wonderland in 2010 … well, that’s another story for another time. Seeing as there is a sequel in the works for 2016, there’s no rush.