Alice In Wonderland appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. At all times, this was a terrific presentation.
Sharpness seemed consistently strong, as most of the picture appeared nicely crisp and well-defined. On a few occasions, I encountered some very mild softness during wide shots – usually ones connected to the extra complexity of the multi-plane camera - but this remained infrequent and minor. Moiré effects and jagged edges caused no concerns, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, I detected no problems in this clean presentation.
Colors appeared bold and vibrant. During shots with colored lighting, the hues threatened to become a little heavy, but this never occurred. Instead, the colors were vivid and full. Black levels seemed nicely deep and dark, and shadow detail was fine. Contrast was solid as well, as whites were pure and clean. I found it hard to believe that Alice came out 60 years ago, as the image looked tremendous.
Although the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Alice In Wonderland occasionally showed its age, it seemed pretty solid given the constraints of the era. The soundfield opened things up in a general way but didn’t do much to reinvent its monaural wheel. While it broadened some effects to the side and rear channels and also added music around the room, nothing especially dynamic occurred. The manner in which the elements spread to the other speakers gave the track some breadth but not a great deal of specificity. This meant the multichannel mix added some involvement but didn’t really bring a lot of concise material to the table.
Audio quality seemed more than fine for its age. Considering the era, speech sounded pretty natural and firm. The lines were slightly thin but not in the least bad given the circumstances of the period. They lacked any edginess and were consistently crisp and intelligible. Music failed to demonstrate great range but seemed acceptably smooth and clear. I wouldn’t call the score and songs rich or vibrant, but they seemed reasonably distinctive for material from 1951.
Effects followed suit and sounded clean but unexceptional. I noticed no significant distortion and thought they represented the original audio well. Bass response mostly seemed modest but acceptable for the era. The mix seemed above average for its age.
How did the picture and audio of this Blu-ray compare to the 2004 DVD? The audio tracks differed but I wouldn’t say the new mix improved on its predecessor. The DTS version was broader and more engulfing, but that didn’t necessarily make it better. Frankly, I’d rather stick with the original monaural, which also appeared here.
Visuals presented a clearer picture, as they were a big step up over the DVD. I thought the 2004 disc looked good but it couldn’t compete with the tightness and vivacity on display here. The Blu-ray provided a substantial improvement in picture quality.
Most of the 2004 DVD’s extras repeat here, and we get a few new components. I’ll note 2010 components with special blue print.
Oddly, the “Classic DVD Bonus Features” area includes some pieces not found on earlier Alice releases. We get Reflections on Alice, a 13-minute, 27-second featurette that offers notes from Disney historians Stacia Martin, Paula Sigma, Lella F. Smith and Charles Solomon, actor Kathryn Beaumont, filmmaker Eric Goldberg, “Alice Authority” Matt Crandall, animators Andreas Deja and Frank Thomas, Imagineering Senior VP Tony Baxter and storyboard artist Floyd Norman. We get a look at the origins of the Alice stories and how they came to the screen. We hear a lot of this info elsewhere, but this is still a tight little take on the topics.
An archival component comes with I’m Odd, a “newly-discovered Cheshire Cat song”. Voice actor Kathryn Beaumont discusses some elements of the movie’s musical numbers and tells us about “I’m Odd”, a song replaced by “Twas Brillig”. This isn’t an actual deleted scene, and the performance comes from a new recording with an actor whose voices resembles Sterling Holloway’s; we don’t get anything done back in the Fifties. Nonetheless, it’s moderately interesting to hear this lost bit of the production.
Also found on the Mickey Mouse In Living Color DVD, Thru the Mirror provides a short from 1936. In this fairly surreal cartoon, we get a piece obviously influenced by the work of Lewis Carroll. The short works well.
Now we move to One Hour in Wonderland, Walt Disney’s first attempt at a television program. Aired in 1950, this 59-minute and 22-second show stars Edgar Bergen and his puppets Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd along with Walt and Kathryn Beaumont. The program also includes guest appearances from actor Bobby Driscoll and Hans Conreid as the Magic Mirror. The latter character becomes the focus of the show; the guests make requests that he grants. Not surprisingly, these consist mainly of movie clips; we see 1937’s Mickey, Donald and Goofy short “Clock Cleaners”, a Pluto short for which I don’t know the name, plus parts of Snow White, Song of the South, and Alice. We also get a performance from the Firehouse Five Plus Two, the jazz band of Disney artists.
Most of “Wonderland” comes in black and white, but the movie clips appear in color. The show seems pretty complete, as it even includes the amusingly tacky Coca-Cola commercials that were integrated into the program; it’s a kick to hear the Magic Mirror espouse the wonders of Coke. Despite its reliance on film snippets, “Wonderland” is a fun piece of history.
We go way back for the next component, an “Alice Comedy” from 1923 called Alice’s Wonderland. Disney made his first dent on the industry with these silent combinations of live action and animation. This eight-minute and six-second short presents a very young Walt with actress Virginia Davis as she sees artists create animation and then dreams about similar escapades. It’s not very entertaining almost 90 years later, but it’s a great historical element to see.
More archival materials arrive with Operation Wonderland, an 11-minute and eight-second TV clip from 1951. Although it's little more than a primitive version of today's featurettes - otherwise known as "glorified trailers" - I enjoyed the piece simply because it provides a little behind-the-scenes action from the Disney studios of the early Fifties. Walt leads us through some rudiments of the production. The best parts show Ed Wynn, Jerry Colonna and Kathryn Beaumont as they act out a scene as models for the artists. The emphasis remains largely promotional in this program and much of the running time consists of movie clips, but it's quite entertaining nonetheless.
We remain in 1951 with an excerpt from The Fred Waring Show. Aired on March 18, 1951, this 30-minute and 55-second piece promotes Alice via a few different sequences. First Walt chats about the flick and shows us a snippet. Then we get a live-action recreation of some songs. Mostly these feature anonymous actors in the various roles, but Beaumont shows up as Alice and Sterling Holloway reprises the Cheshire Cat. Waring also chats a little with Beaumont and Holloway about their work on the film and shows another clip. Objectively, it’s fairly lame – at least while we watch the live-action presentation - but it remains an intriguing piece of historical material.
Two trailers appear. We get the ad for the movie’s original release in 1951 plus another for a 1974 reissue. We also get two Walt Disney TV Introductions. One comes from 1954, while the other stems from 1964. Both of these lead in to TV airings of Alice. The first lasts 80 seconds, while the second runs 69 seconds. Actually, despite the variation in length, they’re very similar, and they offer another cool addition to the set.
A few components pop up in the “Deleted Materials” domain. Hosted by Kathryn Beaumont, From Wonderland to Neverland: The Evolution of a Song provides a six-minute and 49-second featurette. It follows “Beyond the Laughing Sky”, a number originally intended for Alice, as it transmogrified into “The Second Star to the Right” from Peter Pan. We then hear two demos of “Sky” accompanied by concept art for Alice. It’s an interesting examination of an alternate possibility.
Next we find a Deleted Storyboard Concept called “Alice Daydreams in the Park”. Filmed as a running piece, this lasts 121 seconds. We see sketches accompanied by music that depict an alternate vision of the flick’s opening. It’s not as compelling as the unused song, but it’s worth a look.
Speaking of music, this domain ends with Original Song Demos. These include rough versions of “Beware the Jabberwock”, “Everything Has a Useness”, “So They Say”, “Beautiful Soup”, “Dream Caravan”, and “If You’ll Believe In Me”. The quality sometimes seems rough, but it’s very interesting to hear these early musical concepts, especially since a few involve characters who don’t appear in the final film.
We also get a deleted scene called “Pig and Pepper”. Hosted by filmmakers Ron Musker and John Clements, it lasts three minutes, 12 seconds. Clements and Musker act out the sequence’s dialogue as we see art. I’m not sure why this isn’t another “deleted storyboard concept” – “deleted scene” implies a higher level of completion than this – but it’s still a nice addition.
To finish the “Classic DVD Bonus Features”, we head to the Interactive Art Gallery. This presents 81 stills. They include concept art, character designs, photos from the production, and promotional art. It’s a useful collection with an interesting interface option: while you can zoom through the images via thumbnails or one long batch of sequential pictures, you can also access an index that lets you jump to images of many specific characters/situations. Want to just see the Mad Hatter? The gallery will isolate those elements for you. Cool!
With that, we head to new Blu-ray materials. (Well, BD exclusives; the fresh components above also appear on the 2010 Wonderland DVD, which I guess is why they go under “Classic DVD Bonus Features”.) Through the Keyhole: A Companion’s Guide to Wonderland offers a picture-in-picture piece. During this extra, we hear from film historians Charles Solomon, Paula Sigman and Brian Sibley, Victorian literature expert Morton Cohen, former Disney Imagineer Daniel Singer, animator/story artist Will Finn, and animation art historian/conservator Ron Barbagallo. We learn about author Lewis Carroll and aspects of the Alice tales, Walt Disney’s experiences with the books and their adaptation for the screen, and many aspects of the 1951 film’s production.
This essentially ends up as an “audio commentary plus”. The information follows standard commentary guidelines, but the format adds lots of art and photos. Those elements give us a reason to watch “Keyhole”, though you’ll do fine if you choose to stick with the audio on its own; it’s nice to see the visual bits, but the remarks from the participants remain the big attraction. They deliver a high level of information and make this a fast-moving and effective examination of the subject.
Reference Footage shows live-action shots created for the film. The reel lasts one-minute, 33 seconds and shows “Alice and the Doorknob”. We see Beaumont act out the sequence on a stage and can view the piece two different ways. The main option shows the live footage along with movie audio and animation to show the doorknob’s side of the scene. The other option sticks solely with the live scenes and adds commentary from Beaumont. Both are good ways to check out this valuable addition.