Alice and Her Animated Wonderland Alice's Adventures Essay

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Alice and Her Animated Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the 1865 foray into literary nonsense penned by Charles Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, became a classic nearly instantly and has remained so for the century and a half of its existence. The whimsy, satire, and sheer exuberance of storytelling that the author wove into this book (and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There) has made the short novel appeal to children and adults alike, as was its author's intention when he published what began as a simple summer afternoon diversion for three little girls (Levin, 591). Though the story is mostly aimed at children, the characters, places, and situations are largely satires or at least representations of people and places Dodgson knew around Oxford, where he taught, and the book was quickly adopted by adults both for pleasure reading and in scholarly circles for its use of logic and its unique literary merits (Auerbach, Shavit). Its most striking and enduring features, however, have been the story itself and the engaging and "curious" character of Alice herself, from whose perspective the reader receives the story.

The 1951 Disney animated feature titled simply Alice in Wonderland, neither the first nor the last film adaptation of this story but arguably the most well-known, remained largely faithful to the tone and intent of the original novel. There were, of course, adjustments made in the transfer from page to screen, but animation was uniquely suited for the cinematic telling of this story. The over-riding elements of fantasy that so pervade the novel would not be correctly portrayed by a real-to-life or live-action adaptation; the book itself is goofy and unreal, and the Disney feature captured this with animation in a way that actors or even modern CGI-created characters simply could not. Despite the faithfulness that the Disney film kept to the novel's tone and motifs, however, there were necessary alterations in the style of storytelling and, perhaps most importantly, the perspective of the reader/viewer.

Dodgson's book is narrated by a limited third-person, and the narrator and therefore reader only has access to the information Alice does. The animated film stays basically true to this concept in that no scenes take place without Alice being present in them, but it is impossible in film to create the same sense of interiority. The closest approximation of this effect would be the use of a voice-over narrator, which the Disney film did not employ. Instead, though the focus and obvious perspective of Alice remains constant throughout the film just as surely as it exists in the novel, there are many scenes where visual elements take over the task of direct narration. The lack of sound -- or at least spoken words -- in these sections creates perhaps the most marked difference between the novel and the animated adaptation.

One of the earliest of these instances occurs during Alice's long fall down the rabbit hole. In Dodgson's text, as she calmly falls "she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs" (Dodgson, Chapter 1). The scene is much more richly detailed in the Disney animated film, as all of the objects mentioned and many more besides go floating -- or so it seems, given her rate of fall -- past Alice. This actually creates a much more active response on the part of the viewer, contrary to many instances of comparison between film and written text, where the latter is generally regarded as requiring more active engagement. Instead of focusing on each object as it marches neatly across the page in black and white, there are several object competing for attention at once in the film, often falling at different rates and creating the world of logical impossibility in the film using visual elements the way Carroll uses language in the book to create the same humorous impossibilities. In the film, Alice does make several observations aloud during her fall that she makes in her head during the book, but the film is limited to this use of the written text as words, and the medium's limitations was smartly recognized and its strengths wisely exploited by the filmmakers. The effect of the illogical nature of her fall is actually more profound in the film, suggesting that the animation is almost a too successful adaptation.

Yet the vast differences between the two mediums and the intentionally narrowed audience for the film, which was directed far more at just children than the book, also created some important differences between the two tellings (Levin). For instance, the dream-frame that Didson employed in the published version of Alice, in which Alice is sitting by a riverbank with her sister when her adventure begins and awakes there at its end, revealing the entire story to be a dream, takes up an infinitesimal portion at the start of the novel, and its purpose at the end is mostly philosophical ruminations of Dodgson's on the nature of childhood innocence put into the mind of the older sister (Dodgson, Chapter 1, 12). In the Disney film, however, Alice is actually seen nodding off before the adventure begins, and the end has far less to due with any ruminations and more with explaining away the story as a dream -- the lack of written text or a suitable substitute for it is quite detrimental in its decisiveness here. Though she does appear to be fully awake when she begins chasing the white rabbit, the level of ambiguity as to whether or not what Alice experiences is a dream is drastically diminished in the beginning of the movie as opposed to the start of the novel. In an earlier, unpublished version of the work, Dodgson actually kept the question deliberately unanswered, and this original intent is reflected in the fleetingness of the dream explanation at the end of the novel (Shavit, 175). Most translators and adaptors of the work have found it necessary to lessen this ambiguity when telling the story solely for children however, drawing a clear line between fantasy and reality, and the Disney film is no exception (Shavit, 176).

Another variation from the text to the film that is due in part to the limitation of the medium but far more so to the more child-oriented nature of the film is the way in which Alice is represented in comparison to animals. The animated feature presents here as generally well-meaning, if a bit misguided at times; she is often a victim of the strange world and creature that surround her. Nina Auerbach notes that in Dodgson's novel presents a far different Alice; one who is often cruel, however unintentionally (Auerbach, 36-8). Certainly such a characterization was not the intent of the Alice in Wonderland film, which aimed at for much more light-hearted and child-friendly fare (though it is certainly not without its darker moments). Part of the problem in translating Alice's unwitting cruelty, though, is that so much of it occurs only in her own head, and though the animated Alice often speaks her thoughts aloud, the audience is not privy to a streaming interior monologue. Her actions are shown, but not necessarily the motives behind them. When Bill the Lozard is kicked out of the chimney, the film has Alice undertake such violence only as a means of self-defense. Though the situation is the same in the book, Auerbach notes that she kicks Bill only after stopping to pity him (Auerbach, 37, Dodgson, Chapter 4). This is made far more explicit in text than it is in the film, largely because we are not told directly what is going on in Alice's head. In addition, both Auerbach and Harry Levin note how Alice's cat Dinah in the novel as being proudly referred to and described by Alice as a creature of some viciousness, "almost always in terms of her eating some smaller animal" (Auerbach, 36, Levin 601). With less visible (or audible) reflection on and remembrance of Dinah in the film, it is impossible to convey this same sense of character and relationship to the animals of Wonderland, and instead the Disney animators give us a cute cat without any real intention or character at all.

The loss of written text can be compensated for in many ways in an animated adaptation, and the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland covers much of that loss with visual elements. Besides the rabbit hole, the scene in which Alice finds herself lost in the woods just before and during the "good advice" song is an example of the way the animation can recreate the feeling as well as the specifics of the text in ways hat actually rival the text for viewer interaction. The film's use of music, both in the form of songs and score, too, definitely work to enhance the film. Dodgson's writing has such a definite style,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Alice and Her Animated Wonderland Alice's Adventures."  Essaytown.com.  January 15, 2009.  Accessed December 14, 2019.
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