Director: Walt Disney
Production Date: 1923
Stars: Virginia Davis (Alice), Walt Disney, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Ub Iwerks, Carman Maxwell
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Alice's Wonderland' featuring Alice being chased by three lions‘Alice’s Wonderland’ is the pilot film for the Alice cartoons, which Disney made in Kansas city, before trying his luck in Hollywood.

The title card of this pilot reads: “Scenario and direction by Walt Disney. Photography by Ubbe Iwerks and Rudolf Ising. Technical direction by Hugh Harman and Carman Maxwell.”

Alice (the four year old Virginia Davis) drops by the studio and tells Walt Disney she likes to watch him drawing some funnies. Walt Disney lacks his familiar mustache in this sequence, but he is already the kind entertainer of children here, and he takes her to a sheet of paper on where a cat chases a dog out of a dog house. The rest of the studio is also populated by animators (Iwerks, Harman, Ising and Maxwell all appear in this cartoon) and toons alike. The whole crew ‘s watching a boxing match between a dog and a cat, for example.

That night Alice dreams she arrives in cartoonland by train. She’s welcomed by animals and she performs a little dance for them. Unfortunately four lions break out of Cartoonland Zoo and they chase her into a tree, into a cave, into a rabbit hole and finally, to a cliff. She falls off the cliff, and then she awakes.

This cartoon is very entertaining. The idea of a girl in a cartoon (the inverse of the idea of Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell, a series that was around for eight years by then) works wonderfully, and the cartoon is lively. It already contains lots of music and dance, and a very rubbery animated train, besides the normal stiff animation you find in most cartoons of the twenties. The animation of the train looks forward to the flexible animation style that would later make Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney famous.

Luckily, Disney was able to sell the Alice series, starting his Hollywood career. His fledgling studio released 56 Alice Comedies in the next four years, until the series was replaced by Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927. The series was quite successful, allowing Disney to expand and to improve. In that sense, ‘Alice’s Wonderland’ lay the foundation of the Disney imperium.

Watch ‘Alice’s Wonderland’  yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Alice’s Wonderland’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities’

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