Tuesday, July 26, 2011
The Disney team initially went for songs that were like the ones in other Disney movies, i.e. Broadway-type songs. This idea was later scrapped when Disney decided to base almost all the music off of Pytor Tchaikovsky's ballet version of Sleeping Beauty which premiered in 1890. If you listen to the ballet, you cannot help but think of Disney's Sleeping Beauty and vice versa. Tchaidovsky's ballet inspired Disney in more ways than just the musical score. The princess was named Aurora, which means "dawn" in Latin, just like in the ballet version. The name does appear in Charles Perrault's version, but as Sleeping Beauty's daughter's name. Yes, that's right, Perrault had a hand in this fairy tale as well. When Sleeping Beauty goes into hiding and is named Briar Rose, this is reminiscent of the Grimm Brother's version of the tale. Basically Disney took bits and pieces out of each rendition of the story and mashed it together. The Prince on the other hand was given a name that was easily recognizable to American's in the 50's: Phillip. Phillip was also named after Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh(he's married to Queen Elizabeth II, and yes, they are both still alive). This is the equivalent of Disney naming a Disney prince after Prince William, as Phillip and Elizabeth had been married less than ten years before. The name of the evil witch Maleficent was easy enough to come up with, since the name speaks for itself.
Some characters would have been completely different had Walt Disney had his way. He wanted to have the three good fairies completely identical. The Disney animators scoffed at this and claimed that it would be just plain boring watching three identical fairies. They wanted instead for the fairies to be like Huey, Dewey, and Louie; each wearing different colors and each having a distinct personality. Luckily for us, the animators won out. Maleficent went through many different designs before settling on her current appearance. They tried making her look like a stereotypical witch, but found her to look too much like the evil witch from Snow White. The animators decided on a more elegant look for Maleficent, drawing inspiration from medieval pictures. Many parts of the movie were actually cast off parts from Snow White. The Prince's capture, his escape, and the dance with the "fake prince" had all been parts of Snow White. The biggest reason for the prince parts being cut from Snow White were the fact that at that time, the animators couldn't draw a realistic looking male character.
Like in the last couple movies, all of Sleeping Beauty's scenes were acted out by live actors to give the film an even more realistic look. Ed Kemmer played the part of Prince Phillip, while Aurora was played by both Mary Costa and Helene Stanley. Costa provided the singing voice of Aurora, as she was able to produce a classical opera voice, but still have it sound youthful and understandable.
I'm going to be honest here and say that this is one of my favorite Disney films. Not only is the animation top notch and unprecedented, but the action and final battle are the best in any animated film, and many live action ones for that matter. Prince Phillip is the archetype for the valiant prince that saves the fair maiden from a dragon. Does he have some fairies helping him? Yes, but he still does more than a lot of the male characters in the early Disney films. He takes on a legion of Maleficent's minions, a forest of thorns, and a fire-breathing dragon. If that's not BA then I don't know what is. Maleficent makes the movie though. She is one of the greatest Disney villains and probably the one that is the complete embodiment of evil. The scene where she explodes into the dragon form is probably one of my favorite animated scenes in a Disney movie. No matter what age you are, that image sticks with you. I mean come on, it's a black dragon that breaths green fire. That's a pretty good villain.
Like I said before, Disney's version takes a few parts from different Sleeping Beauty interpretations. In the Perrault version, when Sleeping Beauty is born, fairies are invited to be godmothers and give her gifts. A wicked fairy that was overlooked decides that she will curse the baby, making so that when she reaches adulthood, she will prick her finger on the spindle of the Spinning Wheel of Death and die. Yes, apparently the kingdom had a notorious Spinning Wheel of Death that they just had lying around. A last fairy gives her gift, which basically makes it so Sleeping Beauty will fall asleep for 100 years instead of die. The King ordered that all spindles and spinning wheels be forbidden, but that was all in vain. Once the princess turned sixteen, she chanced upon an old woman spinning (spinning cloth, not literally spinning). The old woman is of course the wicked fairy in disguise and she convinces the princess to try spinning (again, not literally). The inevitable happens and she pricks her finger and falls asleep. The good fairy returns and puts everyone to sleep, and puts a forest of thorns around the castle so no one can get in. This is a bit odd, but I'm sure she had a good reason for doing so. A hundred years later, a prince who had heard about the legend of the castle decided to brave the thorns and see what was inside. He finds the sleeping princess and marvels at her beauty, eventually deciding to do what every creeper does and kiss her while she's sleeping. She, along with everyone in the kingdom wake up and they all live happily ever after. They must of been cryogenically frozen because they all didn't seem to age at all in the time they were asleep. There is a second part of the Perrault tale but it literally has nothing to do with the Disney version, so I won't bother expounding.
Perrault didn't invent the Sleeping Beauty tale however, just cleaned it up a bit from earlier workings. The earliest known written version of Sleeping Beauty was by an Italian named Giambattista Basile(the picture, left, was made for the tale). In this version, the princess is named Talia. The king is forewarned by some wise men that his daughter is in danger and that when she pricks her finger on a poison splinter in the palace's flax, she'll drop dead. The king ordered all flax to be disposed of and no one was to spin any. Of course Talia eventually did what the wise men said she would do and pricked her finger and dropped dead. The king then decided to put her on a velvet cloth, lock the palace gates and leave the forest where the kingdom was. Enter a nobleman. He sees the abandoned kingdom and decides to pop in. He finds Talia's dead body and decides not to kiss her, but to rape her. Yes, it's not a classic fairy tale if it doesn't have necrophilia. Nine months later, the dead princess gives birth to twins named after the sun and the moon. Remember, anything can happen in a fairy tale, even if you don't want it to. A bunch of fairies take care of the twins, as I don't imagine the nobleman just waited around for a dead chick to pop out some babies. One day, the boy was sucking on his mother's dead clammy fingers when he sucked out the poisoned flax splinter. She wakes up and is probably freaking out since she is surrounded by babies and fairies.
The nobleman comes back for another go and finds that Talia is alive and well. He explains that he is the father and since this apparently doesn't bother her, they get it on. The nobleman returns home to his wife and she somehow finds out about the illegitimate children and orders her cook to slit the young children's throats and make a hash with their flesh. MMMMM kid-flavored hash browns. Anyway, later that night when they are all eating dinner, the nobleman's wife can hardly contain herself at the fact that her husband is eating his own children. She finally declares the horrible truth, but we come to find out that the cook took mercy on the children and instead used goat meat. The enraged wife finds out and orders Talia to be burned at the stake, the nobleman saves her life and they all live happily ever after. Ewwww. The story has different interpretations, such as the prince's mother wanting to eat Talia's kids to Talia being the one that was supposed to be eaten. Whatever weird Italian version, it involved a woman trying to eat children. I'm very glad that Disney didn't use this version. Not exactly kid-friendly. Also, what's up with Italian authors and messed up stories? You thought the story of Pinocchio was weird.
Sleeping Beauty was released on 70mm prints instead of the standard 35mm, so it was basically in widescreen. It was released in theaters in 1959, and made $7.7 million in it's initial run. The film cost $6 million to make and was by far the most expensive animated film that Disney had ever undertaken. With the high production cost and lackluster performance, coupled with other Disney properties and films not doing well, Disney recorded it's first loss in over ten years. Let's just say that the animation department thinned out a bit after this. Critics gave the movie mixed reviews, claiming that it was slow paced and had little character development. Like Alice in Wonderland, it wasn't re-released again until Walt had passed away. It found new life when it was re-issued in 1970, 1979, 1986, 1993, and 1995. I personally don't remember it being in theaters again in 1995, but I was ten so I probably wasn't paying that much attention. With the re-issues, Sleeping Beauty has a lifetime gross of $51.6 million. When adjusted for inflation, that gross skyrockets to $478.22 million. Not bad for a artsy little film. Of course today we all view Sleeping Beauty as a visual and musical masterpiece, as it should have been viewed at the time of it's release. It's consistently ranked as one of the best Disney animated films and is well loved by the masses. This is either proof that we shouldn't listen to movie critics, or that critics at that time just really sucked.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The story of Lady and the Tramp that we know is a little different from the original script. For one, Lady was meant to have one neighbor dog, a Ralph Bellamy-type dog named Hubert. Hubert was later replaced by Jock and Trusty. A scene that was like Dumbo's "Pink Elephants on Parade" was also deleted from the film, in which Lady's fears of the new baby bring about a baby bootie related nightmare. In earlier versions, the Tramp actually had a name. He went from Homer to Rags to Bozo, then finally to just the Tramp. I'm sure they didn't like the sound of "Lady and Bozo." Tramp barely made it as the name since it was the 50's and it didn't seem acceptable. Disney apparently didn't care and approved it anyway. Aunt Sarah in the film was supposed to be much more overbearing and much meaner. They toned her down to just being a well-meaning busybody. Si and Am, the Siamese cats, were going to be named Nip and Tuck at one time. Jim Dear and Darling originally had normal names, Jim Brown and Elizabeth, respectively. Disney decided to change them to Jim Dear and Darling as to keep the movie in the perspective of Lady. In keeping with this theme, Jim Dear and Darling's faces are rarely shown throughout the movie, and most of the shots are at a low perspective to give the viewer more of a dog's view of things. This alone makes me want to watch this movie again. Even the Rat, whom functions as the villain in the movie, was different in earlier drafts. Instead of being a malicious character, the Rat was first imagined to be a more comical character. This all changed when Disney realized that the film lacked real dramatic tension. The Rat changed to being the thing of my nightmares. Seriously though, who wasn't afraid of that rat when they were a kid?
I have been informed by my writing partner Anne, that I seem to ramble in these posts, and half the time I'm simply telling you the story you already know because most of you have seen these movies. I could not agree more. While it's fun to poke fun at some of the story plots in Disney movies, you have all seen them before and don't need a boring recap from me. So, from now on I will be just giving the unknown background of the film and some other fun facts. This will make the posts more fun to read for you, and more fun for me to write.
Getting back to the movie, you may have noticed that there is a distant cousin of Gopher in Winnie the Pooh present. The Beaver not only sounds a bit like Gopher, but has the same whistling "S" sound when he talks. Stan Freberg provided the voice of the Beaver, and resorted to using an actual whistle to make the funny noise when it proved to hard to make it naturally. The Beaver sequence is the one I remember the most from my childhood, mostly for the silly sounding character.
On the technical side, this was the first Disney movie to be filmed in CinemaScope (Example at left. A preview of the movie, The Robe, with CinemaScope. The dotted square is supposed to represent the size of a normal movie screen). It's like the Imax of the 50's. CinemaScope made the picture wider, therefore making it harder for the animators to have one character dominate the screen. More background was added to shots just so the area wouldn't look sparse. Longer takes were deemed necessary as constant jump-cutting would seem too busy or annoying. Since this was a newer way to portray animated films, the animators didn't quite get the hang of it in Lady and the Tramp, and some character development was lost, as there was more realism but fewer closeups, therefore less involvement with the audience. Another problem was that not all movie theaters had the capabilities to play CinemaScope and so Walt had to issue two versions of the film, one in widescreen and another in the academy ratio. This involved gathering the layout artists to restructure key scenes when characters were on the outside area of the screen. Come on! Having characters fully in the shot is overrated! I'm sure it would have turned out fine. CinemaScope didn't stay around for long though, as by the early 1960's, most movies didn't use it. It turned out that it was expensive to produce the film and sound recording for CinemaScope, so studios eventually stopped using it.
In the end, Lady and the Tramp is about class structure. It's a familiar tale that we've all heard. A scruff or peasant male falls in love with a rich and proper female, or vice versa. On paper it's not supposed to work, but in the end, opposites attract and the two fall in love anyway. Another theme that is apparent in all these sorts of movies is the misunderstanding of other classes. A prime example is the movie/book The Outsiders. The Greasers and Socials, both completely different, hate each other for reasons no one is completely sure about. As the movie/book progresses, both groups start to realize that all their conceptions about the other group are not as true as they thought. The same goes for Lady and the Tramp in a way. Lady and her friends are judgmental of the Tramp and his rough and tumble friends. The Tramp and his friends on the other hand, consider the other dogs pompous and naive. Only through shared experiences do they learn that they are not that different from each other.
The movie also deals with abandonment and replacement. The same anxiety and confusion that a child feels when they are about to get a new little sibling is the same feelings that Lady has. Like a child that has received all the attention of their parents up till the birth of another baby, Lady is frightened by the thought of not being loved anymore, of being cast off and forgotten due to this screaming baby. Any older sibling can relate to this feeling. That's why being the youngest child is the best!
I do have to bring up the issues of race in this movie. While the movie is very good in my opinion, it does have a very shameless representation of Asians, personified by the siamese cats, Si and Am. Get it? Siam?.....Never mind. The cat's first drawings and conception came in 1943, right in the middle of World War II and the fear of the Yellow Peril. The Yellow Peril was the evil Asian forces that were out to destroy the American way, namely the Japanese. That didn't mean that Americans and others wouldn't stereotype all Asians however. Si and Am became the bane of Lady's existence. The stereotypical looks, manner and accent tip off any older viewer, though things like this bounced right off me as a child. I was too busy freaking out about the talking animals.
Lady and the Tramp is best known for it's spaghetti dinner scene. Lady and the Tramp are sitting down to a spaghetti dinner brought to them by two outrageously Italian men (that's a spicy meat-a-ball!) and they eat until they sip on the same noodle and lock lips. Awwwwww! This has been parodied more times than I can count. It's a beautiful scene with great music and it has become a classic Disney moment. Warning! I would not try this move on the first date! Though if your first date happens to be in the back alley of a Italian restaurant, then I think it's meant to be.
One last note about the movie. Singer Peggy Lee, who voiced Peg in the movie, ended up suing Disney for breach of contract. Why? Because she couldn't make any money from the sale of Lady and the Tramp video tapes. Remember that Peg had her own song in the movie, along with Si, Am, and Darling whom she also voiced. She ended up winning $2.3 million dollars in 1991 from Disney studios. Thanks to her, everybody now puts it in their contract that they want to retain the rights to their songs on "formats not yet invented."
Now for the sad part of the post, and I'm not talking about Trusty getting run over by the dogcatcher carriage. Lady and the Tramp, while making a lot of money at the box office, was critically panned by many critics when it came out in 1955. Most criticism was lobbed at the art design, as one critic called the "artist's work, below par," and another complained that the dogs had "the dimensions of hippos." What does that even mean? They look nothing like hippos! Of course, like most Disney films, it is now regarded as a classic, with no one claiming any characters looked like hippos.....except the hippo in the zoo. It has even been listed as one of the greatest love stories of all time by AFI, coming in at number 95 out of 100.
Again, if you like dogs, then this is probably one of your favorite Disney movies. Well....there are a lot of Disney movies with dogs in them, so you have your pick. Lady and the Tramp isn't one of my favorites honestly. Of course it's a good story, but it lacks the adventure feel that other Disney films have in spades. I think it's because this film lacks a great villain. All you have in this is an uptight woman and a rat. Not exactly up there with Gaston, Maleficent or Captain Hook.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is the prime example of the literary nonsense genre. I have to give the dictionary description of this so bear with me. In literary nonsense, formal diction and tone may be balanced with elements of absurdity. It is most easily recognizable by the various techniques it uses to create nonsensical effects, such as faulty cause and effect, portmanteau, neologism, reversals and inversions, imprecision, simultaneity, picture/text incongruity, arbitrariness, infinite repetition, negativity or mirroring, and misappropriation. Nonsense tautology, reduplication, and absurd precision have also been used effectively in the nonsense genre. This wasn't lost in translation when Disney made his movie. Many instances in the movie constitute the aspects of literary nonsense that the book featured. The main theme that the book plays with is logic. Continually through the book, Alice's logic and our own logic is being messed with as everything Alice finds to be normal is turned on its head.
The book starts out the same as the movie. Alice is bored with her life and wants some adventure. She notices a clothed, talking White Rabbit and decides to follow it. She plunges down the rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland. The scenario with the drink and cake is the same besides her being able to see a garden on the other side of the door through its keyhole. The doorknob does not talk in the book, it's just a doorknob. Another difference is a fan she finds, which also changes her into a smaller version of herself. She floats in the pool of her own tears, seeing a mouse and trying to make conversation with it. She can't think of anything to talk about besides her cat, which offends the mouse. She, along with a bunch of other animals are washed up on a shore and she questions them on how to get dry. The Do-Do bird declares they should have a caucus race to dry off, but Alice soon scares everyone off by talking, again, about her cat. What is it with her and that cat? Like I mentioned in the last post, Carroll was poking fun at political races, saying that they went no where, same as the running in circles in the surf would get someone no where. She runs into the White Rabbit, who mistakes her for Mary Ann, the maidservant, and insists that she find the Duchess' gloves and fan. She goes inside, but starts growing. Bill the Lizard, the White Rabbit's gardener is forced to try and pull her up out of the chimney. This is a prime example of faulty cause and effect that nonsense literature is known for. Bill is shot up into the sky, and animals start throwing rocks at Alice. The rocks turn into cakes and she eats one to shrink in size. She does shrink, but too much and finds herself the size of a bug.
She runs into the Caterpillar who questions her on who she is. She admits that she is having an identity crisis and not entirely sure that she is herself anymore. The Caterpillar tells her that the two sides of the mushroom will make her grow or shrink and Alice tests this until she is her proper size again. Alice finds her way to the Duchess' house, meeting the Fish-Footman and the Frog-Footman. After a confusing conversation, she goes inside the house and sees the Duchess' cook breaking dishes and making a soup with way too much pepper. This causes Alice, the Duchess, the Duchess' baby, but not the Duchess' Cheshire Cat, to sneeze violently. The Duchess hands Alice the baby and Alice is surprised when the baby turns into a pig. Alice runs outside to find the Cheshire Cat, who directs her to the March Hare's house. The Cheshire Cat disappears, with only its smile left behind.
Alice makes her way to the March Hare's house, where he, along with the Hatter and the Dormouse are having a tea party, though the Dormouse is asleep most of the chapter. They constantly throw riddles and questions at Alice, one being, "How is a raven like a writing desk?" This riddle has no answer and is of course, not deliberated on by the Hatter or March Hare. The popular answer to the riddle is that Poe wrote on both, but Carrol never revealed what the real answer is. The Hatter explains to Alice that they have been punished by time and must stay stuck in this particular time, 6 pm, which happens to be tea time. Alice leaves in a huff, claiming its the stupidest tea party she's ever been to. The Hatter is never actually referred to as The Mad Hatter in the book, it's just a name he received after time. Interestingly enough, though many people cite the Mad Hatter's connection with hatters at the time getting mercury poisoning and acting odd, the Mad Hatter in the novel does not exhibit any of the symptoms of mercury poisoning. "In this style 10/6," portrayed on the Hatter's hat, symbolizes the prize of a hat at that time in pre-decimalized British money: ten shillings and six pence. This was to be an indication of the Hatter's occupation. As for how the March Hare got his name, the phrase, "Mad as a march hare" was popular in England in Carrol's time.
Alice finds herself in the grounds of the Queen of Hearts and witnesses the playing cards painting the roses red, for the Queen of Hearts hates white roses. The Queen comes and is characterized by her short temper and her trademark phrase of "Off with his head!" She orders Alice to play croquet with her, using flamingo's and hedgehogs for equipment, and the game quickly turns into chaos. The Cheshire Cat pops in and annoys the Queen into ordering for his head to cut off. The executioner complains that it's impossible since his head is the only thing visible. The Queen decides to let the Duchess decide what to do, since it's her cat. The Duchess comes and ruminates on finding morals in everything around her. The Queen threatens to have her beheaded, so she leaves and introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle is very sad, though he has no sorrow. He tries to tell the tale of how he used to be a red turtle in school, but the Gryphon interrupts so they can play a game. The Gryphon and Mock Turtle dance to the Lobster Quidrille. The Mock Turtle begins to sing a song until Alice is taken away by the Gryphon for an impending trial.
The trial is to find out who stole the Queen's tarts. The Knave of Hearts is on trial and the jury consists of various animals that Alice had run into on her journey like Bill the Lizard. The King of Hearts serves as the judge and brings up several witnesses including The Hatter, who frustrates the King with his indirect answering to the questions. All the while, Alice is growing bigger and bigger. The Dormouse scolds her for growing and taking up all the air. Alice is then brought up as a witness, though she knocks over the witness box in the process. The Queen orders her to leave on account of the rule that all people over a mile high are not to be allowed in the courtroom. Alice argues the fact that she's a mile high and refuses to leave. She scolds the people for their odd ways and rules and is eventually swarmed by playing cards. This is the moment that Alice wakes up. Her sister brushes off a bunch of leaves that were on Alice, leaves that Alice thought were the playing cards. Alice's sister is left to wonder what Alice's crazy dream was about.
The book, like so many great works, wasn't really appreciated when it first came out. It wouldn't be until he published Through the Looking Glass that people really started to notice Carrol's first work. There is a whole bunch of symbolism in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Also, a lot of the characters are based on people Carrol knew at the Christ Church or in Oxford. The "rabbit hole" was meant to symbolize the actual staircase found in the back of the main hall in the Christ Church. Carrol was a mathematician at the Christ Church and thus there are many references to math in the book. The concept of limit is addressed when Alice wonders aloud how big she can actually get, or if she will be "going out altogther, like a candle." Later in Chapter Five, when Alice grows and disturbs the bird, the bird reasons that since little girls and serpents eat bird eggs, therefore little girls are serpents, as Alice is. This is an example of the general concept of abstraction. The Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse discuss inverse relationships with the line, "Why you might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!" There are a few more math-related symbols in the book, but they are extremely involved and I don't feel it's necessary to divulge any further. So there. The painting of the roses from white to red is a symbol of the War of the Roses. The red roses symbolize the House of Lancaster and the white roses the rival House of York.
Many real life people are alluded to in the novel, even Carrol...er...Dodgson himself. Alice Liddell herself makes an appearance as a member of the caucus race. The Do-Do bird is Dodgson, as he spoke with a stutter and often said his last name as Dodo-Dodgson. The Duck is a reference to Canon Duckworth, the other man on the boat ride with Dodgson and the Liddell girls. The Lory and Eaglet represented Alice's sisters, Lorina and Edith, respectively. Bill the Lizard may of been a play on the name of the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. The Liddell sisters make another appearance in the book as the three girls in the Dormouse's story.
Dodgson was really into photography. It was one of his many hobbies outside of writing. He even took photos of little Alice Liddell(left), the inspiration for Alice. This leads to a bit of a controversy about Dodgson. Dodgson gets a bad rap today by many who considered him to be into pedophilia. Many viewed his photography of little girls to be a bit creepy and thought that he enjoyed the company of little girls more than women his age. Even more cry out against his photography of naked girls, which today is highly unorthodox and extremely taboo. This is all when taking his hobby of photography in the scope of 20th century views argues Hugues Lebially. Lebially and other contemporary scholars have attempted to redeem Dodgson's image by arguing that his photography has been taken out of context. They argue that Dodgson was living in a time where photography of little girls in the nude was considered a display of their purity and innocence. It was considered normal at the time and many famous English photographers took part in it. It was mainstream and in fashion at the time, and Christmas cards would even feature naked girls on them. This however, does not keep the whole thing from being extremely creepy. The rumor that Dodgson enjoyed the company of little girls instead of women his own age is also debated. Contemporary scholars have found that Dodgson was actually quite the ladies man, and his family sought to keep this out of the public eye so as to not damage his image as an author of children's literature. Their protection had the opposite effect and many decades after Dodgson had died, seeing little evidence of his womanizing ways, many biographers assumed he was into little girls. This is all hotly debated between Carrol scholars, as there are many that still argue that he was a pedophile.
I know that there is a section of Through the Looking Glass in the Disney version, but I'm not going to cover that book too. This post is already long enough! Anyway, there have been countless versions of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass released. I have caught a slew of them on TV at one time or another as a kid and know some of the more weirder interpretations. All are different, but all are silly. Many have come out of Britain, where the book originates. Here are a few movies and series that are either based on Carroll's books, or heavily influenced by them.
- Adventures in Wonderland: A early 90's live action show on the Disney Channel. I remember watching a few episodes here and there.
- Jabberwocky: A film by Monty Python member Terry Gilliam.
- The Matrix trilogy: the movies have several allusions to the books, including the White Rabbit and "going down the rabbit hole." The Wachowski brothers stated that Alice in Wonderland is a recurring theme throughout the movies.
- Alice in Wonderland (2010): The newest incarnation of the Alice story, directed by Tim Burton, is probably the most well known one for a younger generation. Starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, it paints Wonderland in a much darker light and acts more of a sequel to the original film, mixing characters from Carroll's two books.
- Thru the Mirror: This popular Mickey Mouse cartoon features Mickey stepping through his mirror a la Through the Looking Glass and discovering a new world.
- Psychonauts: One of my favorite video games of all time. Game deals with the mind and madness, with one area consisting of Rasputin, the main character, chasing a white rabbit through a Wonderland-esque area inside his own mind.
- American McGee's Alice: A very dark interpretation of Alice's journey back into Wonderland. There are now two games, the first only for computer, and the second just coming out a month ago.
- Kingdom Hearts: A video game that combines Disney films with Square Enix games. Features Alice and a whole level dedicated to Wonderland where you meet many of the characters from Alice in Wonderland.
- Batman: The Batman universe is influenced by the Alice books through story lines and characters. One of Batman's nemesis' is based on the Mad Hatter, a villain who uses mind control to battle Batman. The whole book, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, is supposed to be one big tribute to Alice in Wonderland. The authors put Batman into Arkham Asylum, a basic world of madness, and have Batman come out none the wiser from the experience. The story even ends with a quote from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
But let me back track a little and tell you where Barrie’s inspiration came from. If you have seen Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp, you know the gist of it, but of course movies do not always tell you the full truth. When James Barrie was little his older brother David died in a ice skating accident at the age of thirteen , leaving James saddened, but his mother a complete mess. Barrie at times would try to comfort his mother by wearing some of his brother’s clothing making her think that her son David was still alive and would always remain a boy. I can’t imagine how hard this was on James himself , in a way always haunting him, but he would later turn it into something more, channeling his emotions into a fairytale land.
When Barrie got older and starting writing he met the Davies family. Little did he know that they would soon become his great muses. The most influential was the Davies’s five sons, George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas. Now in the movie Finding Neverland, Barrie met all four boys ranging in ages I would guess 10-4, but in real life Peter was just a baby when Barrie invented Peter Pan to entertain George and Jack. Barrie would say, amusing himself and the kids, that Peter could fly. Barrie told them babies were birds before they were born; parents put bars on nursery windows to keep the little ones from flying away. This grew into a tale of a baby who did fly away, not realizing that he was no longer a bird. From this, Peter Pan was born.
Also being a playwright, Barrie took this character of Peter Pan and on December 27, 1904 debuted the play, “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”. The play became such a hit that Barrie's publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, extracted chapters 13–18 of "The Little White Bird" and republished them in 1906 under the title “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens". Then in 1911 Barrie novelized the play and called it “Peter and Wendy”, which later would be change to simply, Peter Pan. A quick fun- fact James Barrie was supposedly the first to penned the name Wendy into literature. The source of the name was Barrie's childhood friend, Margaret Henley, 4-year- old daughter of poet William Ernest Henley, who pronounced the word "friend" as "Fweiendy",adapted by Barrie as "Wendy" in writing the play.And thus with James Barrie's creation came Walt Disney's own spin on it, giving the story his own magical touch.
Work for Peter Pan actually started back in 1940, after years of negotiating with Great Ormond Street Hospital ( a children’s hospital) in London for screen rights of the play, “Peter and Wendy." Barrie had bequeathed the rights to the play to the hospital. Peter Pan was perfect for animation because it was a fantasy and anything was possible. “The cartoon method gave us many advantages over the stage craft of barriers day which no amount of pixie dust could cure," Walt said of Peter Pan.
The earlier work of Peter Pan was quite different from the final version, Nana the dog follows the children on their adventure to Neverland and there were a few darker scenes with plenty of skeletons.Walt had plenty of time to think whether he wanted this version of the film because once again as you have read from past blogs, Disney’s work during this period was interrupted by war. Once the war was over, production continued with a few changes, including a different look for Peter and a little lighter tone. “The Nine Old Men”, the great animators of this time did have their difficulties with animating the film. Animator Milt Kahl had the challenge of creating the illusion of weightlessness of Peter. But what fun the animators must of had, drawing mischievous mermaids that lure you in with their beauty and then try to drown you, brave Indians like
Tiger Lilly, fierce Pirates like Captain Hook and his bumbling shipmate Smee, along with a crocodile that eyes bug out as the clock in his stomach tick tocks a warning he is craving Captain James Hooks other hand. But who could forget the lovable misfits of the Lost Boys, all dressed in different animal skinned pajamas and of course there are the three children who get the pleasure of exploring Neverland, Wendy, John, and Michael. And finally Tinker Bell, the envious fairy ( pixie) and the star of the show Peter Pan.
There are some major differences though between
Barrie's play and the Disney version. Instead of a stage light beam reflecting off of a mirror resembling Tinker Bell, an actually pixie was made. It was rumored that Tinker Bell was modeled after Marilyn Monroe, but at this time Monroe wasn’t a well-known sex symbol movie star, her career was just getting started. Instead the model for Tinker Bell was Margaret Kerry. Tinker Bell would become so popular that she was used later on as a symbol of ‘the magic of Disney’ flying over the Magic Kingdom.Some critics believe Tinker Bell was too provocative looking, but have they seen Jessica Rabbit? Major Whore! Anyway the number one difference between the play and animated film was Peter Pan was finally turned back into a boy. The play and the 1924 silent film both had females (stage-Nina Boucicault, film- Betty Bronsen )play Peter’s part. Some of you may know a somewhat more recent stage/ tv-movie version of Peter Pan being played by Mary Martin ( this is my favorite). One reason behind this was the difficulty of casting actors even younger than the one playing Peter as the other children. In animation this wasn’t even an issue, so Peter became a real boy ( modeled and voiced by Bobby Driscoll). There were a few plot changes too when it came to the film. In the play version, the Darling children are leaving Neverland along with the Lost Boys to return to London. Peter has decided to stay claiming he will never grow up to be a man and no one can make him. Before Wendy goes she tells Peter to make sure he takes his medicine. Peter agrees but falls asleep instead. While he is asleep Hook captures the children and sneaks into Peter's hide out to drop poison into his medicine. Peter wakes up and goes to drink his medicine when Tink comes to the rescue, seeing Hooks evil deed she drinks the poison before it can hit Peter's lips.
At first Peter is upset with Tink for drinking his medicine but then he sees her light fading and she chimes it was poison. To save Tinker Bell, Peter claps his hands and asks the audience to do the same, claiming she will live if the audience truly believes in fairies and claps their hands like crazy. Man that would really suck if no one clapped their hands- awkward for the actress playing Peter. Of course everyone claps and Tinker Bell lives! I know I clapped, thank you very much. In Disney's movie though Peter receives a present from Wendy instead of medicine, but little does Peter know its a bomb that Hook has disguised as a gift. Tink still saves the day, but there is no clapping needed. Also as I told you the Lost Boys are joining Wendy and her brothers in the return to London in hopes that they will all be adopted, in the play the Darling family adopts all the Lost Boys, while in the movie they decide to stay Lost Boys forever with Peter. One thing that Disney kept similar to the play was the using of the same actor to play Mr. Darling and Captain Hook ( in this case it was just the voice).
There was a little controversy with the film, mainly the way Disney portrayed the Indians of Neverland. In the song "What Made the Red Man Red?" it has racist stereotypes of Native Americans, most glaringly in the name of the song. The lyrics and actions in sequence suggest that Indian men maintain a permanent blush due to their constant pursuit of Indian women, and that asking "How?" is a major catalyst for Indian education.
One thing that I absolutely loved about this film is in the beginning. The narrator tells the viewing audience, the action about to take place "has happened before, and will all happen again. After watching the whole film I couldn't help but think of what the narrator had said. Maybe I could be visited by Peter Pan someday. This thought was always one of my fondest memories of being a kid, imagining that I could fly. All I needed was to think happy thoughts and a little bit of pixie dust and away I go following the second star to the right then to Neverland where I could have my own adventures with Peter Pan and the rest of the gang. I just love the idea of keeping youthful spirit, I believe everyone should stay a child at heart. So I guess you can say I will always have Peter Pan Syndrome.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
To say that Disney has an affection for the story of Alice in Wonderland is an understatement. As soon as they started coming up with ideas for full-length films, Disney expressed his interest in doing a movie based on Lewis Carroll's surreal tale. He even planned on making it his first film instead of Snow White, using live action and animation like his shorts had been. The idea was shelved however when a live-action version of Alice in Wonderland was made staring such big names as Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, and Gary Cooper. Disney would have to wait to make his dream picture. After Snow White was such a resounding success, Walt went out and recorded the title Alice in Wonderland with the MPAA in 1938. Work on Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio, coupled with the onset of WWII, delayed the production of the film even further. During the 40's Disney would try another idea of making a live action and animated film version of the book, in the style of The Three Caballeros, but this also fell through. It wasn't until the late 40's that Disney ultimately started working on the Alice in Wonderland that we know today. He wanted to focus more on comedy, music, and spectacle, as opposed to rigid fidelity to the original book. Instead of trying to produce an animated "staged reading" of Carroll's books, Disney chose to focus on their whimsy and fantasy, using Carroll's prose as a beginning, not as an end unto itself. He wanted the film to be more like Fantasia or The Three Caballeros, not Snow White or Cinderella. The music and visuals were to be the chief source of entertainment. Another choice was decided upon for the look of the film.
Rather than faithfully reproducing the famous illustrations of Sir John Tenniel, a more streamlined and less complicated approach was used for the design of the main characters. Background artist Mary Blair took a modernist approach to her design of Wonderland, creating a world that was recognizable, and yet was decidedly "unreal." Indeed, Blair's bold use of color is one of the film's most notable features. Finally, in an effort to retain some of Carroll's imaginative verses and poems, Disney commissioned top songwriters to compose songs built around them for use in the film. A record number of potential songs were written for the film, based on Carroll's verses—over 30—and many of them found a way into the film, if only for a few brief moments. Alice in Wonderland would boast the greatest number of songs included in any Disney film, but because some of them last for mere seconds (like "How Do You Do and Shake Hands," "We'll Smoke the Monster Out," "Twas Brillig," "The Caucus Race," and others), this fact is frequently overlooked.
The voices in Alice in Wonderland are basically an all-star cast of people who would become Disney regulars. Katheryn Beaumont, just ten at the time that she voices Alice, also served as the live-action model for Alice. If her voice seems a bit familiar, it's because she went on to voice Wendy in Peter Pan. Sadly, Beaumont hasn't really done anything outside of Disney related films. She has recently reprised her roles as Wendy and Alice for the video game Kingdom Hearts (play this game if you haven't). Probably the next well known voice is that of Ed Wynn, the voice of the Mad Hatter. Wynn is probably best known for his role as Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins. Another Disney movie I remember him from is Babes in Toyland, as the Toymaker. His Mad Hatter is still one of my favorite Disney characters. The Cheshire Cat is voiced by Sterling Holloway, perhaps one of the most well known Disney voice actors. His other roles included Mr. Stork in Dumbo, adult Flower in Bambi, the narrator of Peter and the Wolf, Kaa in the Jungle Book, and perhaps what he is most remembered for: Winnie the Pooh. You know his voice when you hear it, it's unmistakable. The March Hare's voice was provided by Jerry Colonna, a famous entertainer at the time, best known as the sidekick to Bob Hope on Hope's radio show. Colonna also lent his voice as the narrator for Casey at Bat in Make Mine Music. Verna Felton provided the voice for the Queen of Hearts, another example of a voice actor who did much for Disney. Her other credits include, Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo, The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, Aunt Sarah in Lady and the Tramp, Flora in Sleeping Beauty, and Winifred the Elephant in the Jungle Book. The last of the recognizable Disney voices is Bill Thompson, who provided the voice of the White Rabbit. Thompson also provided the voice of Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, and more famously, Droopy, from Warner Bros. You could say confidently that Disney liked using the same people for his animated films.
On to the film! Something important to remember is that the movie is an amalgamation of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The movie begins with Alice getting a history lesson from her older sister near a tranquil river. Alice is clearly not listening and is scolded by her sister. Alice wanders away from her sister with her cat, Dinah, and wishes that she lived in a world of nonsense. A world without history books and facts to remember. That's right, this story starts with a girl's intense annoyance at the subject of history. I have my work cut out for me. As she is wondering aloud about all the crazy things that would be in that world, she notices a white rabbit running by. This wouldn't be odd except for the fact that the rabbit has a waistcoat and large pocket watch. The rabbit yells that he's late on and on and Alice assumes that the rabbit is going to a party. *Fun fact*: The watch that the white rabbit keeps looking at always reads 12:25. Determined to crash the party, Alice follows the rabbit into a hole. She crawls deeper into the hole until she falls into a pit. Instead of being freaked out, she simply waves goodbye to her cat, Dinah. Alice keeps falling, not perishing as one might think, until her dress eventually acts as a parachute. This is where the movie gets a little trippy. As she falls, she notices random objects floating around such as clocks, tables, and lamps. This is a really cool sequence of animation too for the color usage and shading on Alice as she passes lamp light. The color of the pit keeps changing color, giving the whole sequence a very psychedelic effect. She eventually descends to the bottom and follows the white rabbit into a large hall. The white rabbit disappears into a small door, leaving Alice alone in the room. She tries the door that he rabbit goes through and surprisingly finds it to be alive. Though shocked she asks it how she can get through. He suggests drinking the bottle marked "Drink me." She does so and becomes small enough to fit through the door. This is where the bad news comes. He forgot to tell her that he's locked and she needs a key to open him. The key is of course out of reach on the table. He suggests eating the cookie marked "Eat me." She does so and grows to about the size of the room itself. She begins to cry when she realizes she can't get out of the room. Her tears become so numerous that they flood the room. The doorknob pleads with her to drink out of the bottle again. She does so and becomes small again, riding the bottle through the doorknobs mouth. *Fun Fact*: The doorknob is the only character in the movie that is not in either of Lewis Carrol's books.
Alice is now floating on an ocean. A do-do bird, riding a black bird and being pushed by another bird passes her while singing, ignoring her cries for help. Everybody in this movie is singing half the time, just warning you. She sees several other birds on the ocean, all too busy being silly to help her out. She reaches dry land and finds the do-do and a bunch of birds and sea creatures are on the shore, running in circles, apparently taking part in a caucus race. The do-do is on top of a rock with a fire to dry him off, while the others are running in circles, constantly being hit by water from the tide. A caucus race, or political race so to speak is lampooned here, as the animals go around in circles, achieving nothing since they keep getting wet. The do-do tells Alice that standing still is no way to get dry and that she better start running in circles. She notices the futility in running with the birds and points it out to the do-do. "Nonsense," he remarks, and tells her that he's plenty dry. Alice decides to look further for the white rabbit and runs into an odd pair with the names Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum written on their bow ties. They hit her with logic and show her their love for making funny noises and telling stories. They tell her the story of the Walrus and the Carpenter, a tale of the mentioned characters tricking clams into coming on shore so they can be eaten. This whole sequence, including the Walrus and Carpenter tale are actually from Through the Looking Glass. Alice leaves the twins after learning nothing of the white rabbit or anything useful in her opinion. She finds the white rabbits house and is promptly mistaken by the rabbit as his maidservant, Mary-Ann. Alice is told to go upstairs and fetch the rabbit's gloves. As she is looking she helps herself to a cookie and grows exponentially, making her limbs jut out of the house. The white rabbit freaks out and calls for the do-do bird to help. He suggests that someone pull her out of the chimney, so they recruit Bill the lizard. Bill is hesitant but finally tries to make his way down the chimney. Alice sneezes from the ash and Bill goes bye bye. By that, I mean that he is rocketed up into the sky, never seen again for the rest of the movie. Poor, Bill. The d0-do bird decides the best thing to do is burn the house down to smoke the "monster" as they call her, out. Alice eats a carrot and shrinks down to three inches tall again, allowing her to escape and pursue the white rabbit.
From there, Alice meets a group of singing flowers, who at first are very nice to her, until an iris convinces the rest that Alice is a weed and must go. Alice is chased away and discovers a caterpillar smoking a hookah on top of a mushroom. She questions the caterpillar who continually asks her who she is. She sees that she isn't getting anywhere, so she stomps away, frustrated by the caterpillar's confusing manner of speaking. The caterpillar begs her to come back so he can tell her something important. When she does, all he tells her is to keep her temper. This angers her further and she exclaims that being three inches tall is being downright dreadful. This insults the caterpillar, who is apparently just that size and he decides to not follow his own advice. He becomes red with anger and eventually turns into a butterfly, explaining that one side of the mushroom will make her smaller and the other, bigger. She proceeds to eat too much and grows too tall, upsetting a bird, who thinks that Alice is a serpent. She takes a bite of the other side, which makes her small again. She finally realizes that if she simply licks the one side, she will grow tall enough to be normal size again.
Alice is then visited by the ever smiling Cheshire Cat. The Cheshire Cat, while continually singing and making parts of himself disappear, tells her that she should ask the Mad Hatter about the white rabbit's whereabouts. Alice doesn't like the sound of a "mad hatter" and decides not to seek his company. The Cheshire Cat tells her that she should then see the March Hare, who is also mad, as everyone in Wonderland could be described as mad. Alice sees that she cannot win and visits the March Hare's house anyway to find out about the white rabbit. This is probably the most entertaining part of the whole movie. She meets the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Door-Mouse, all celebrating their un-birthdays. Between constantly switching seats and singing a song about un-birthdays, Alice mentions her cat, Dinah. Hearing the word "cat," the Door-Mouse freaks out and the March Hare and Mad Hatter have to catch him. Alice is offered tea several times, but can never seem to get any, as she is forced to either change cups or seats when she is about to drink. The white rabbit appears, screaming about being late and holding his watch out. The Mad Hatter claims that the white rabbit's watch is broken and attempts to fix it by taking all the cogs out and putting condiments and tea in it instead. The best part about this whole sequence is that Ed Wynn ad-libbed the whole thing. They just happened to be recording the audio from a live practice and Disney liked it so much that he ordered the sound crew to clean it up, because it was going to be in the film. The Mad Hatter of course destroys the thing and the white rabbit bemoans that it was an un-birthday present. Hearing this, the March Hare and Mad Hatter grab the white rabbit and throw him into the forest. Seriously, nothing about this movie makes any sense, so it's hard to make any smart remarks on my part since it's so funny and bizarre already. The best part of the whole movie is that EVERYONE is messing with Alice all the time. She cannot catch a break.
Alice chases after the rabbit, but soon becomes frustrated by all the silliness of Wonderland and wants to go home. After a sad song, Alice is visited again by the Cheshire Cat, who informs her of a shortcut out of the forest to the Queen of Heart's castle. Outside of the Queen's castle, there is a large hedge maze, which Alice navigates to the source of singing. She finds a group of playing cards painting white roses red. She learns that if the cards don't hide the evidence that they planted the wrong color roses, they'll lose their heads. She agrees to help them paint, but is soon stopped when the Queen's procession comes into the clearing. It happens that the important date that the white rabbit was trying to get to was announcing the Queen of Heart's arrival. The Queen appears, along with the King, who is much smaller than the Queen. She notices the paint on a half painted rose and demands that the cards lose their heads. The Queen notices Alice and invites her to play a game of croquet with her. What Alice doesn't realize is the mallet is a flamingo, and the balls are hedgehogs. The Queen goes first, using the playing cards as wickets. They move to make her shot go through all of them. When it's Alice's turn, none of the "equipment" quite works, and she fails to get the hedgehog through any wickets. This is where the Cheshire Cat comes in. Wanting to have some fun, the Cheshire Cat makes the flamingo catch the Queen's dress as she is swinging, causing her to fall over. This of course makes her steaming mad and she demands that Alice lose her head. The King convinces her otherwise and suggests that Alice have a trial. They do, and characters from earlier in her journey come to testify, though they were not even around for the incident. The white rabbit, the Door-Mouse, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter, are all of no help to Alice. That is until everyone realizes that it's the Queen's un-birthday, which causes enough distraction for Alice to eat a piece of the mushroom she has in her pocket. She grows very large and begins to give the Queen quite a tongue-lashing. That is, until the effects wear off prematurely and she finds herself back to her normal size. The Queen exclaims "Off with her head!" and all of the inhabitants of Wonderland are chasing Alice. She runs until she finds the doorknob whom she begs to open up so she can get out. The doorknob laughs and tells her that she already is out. She looks inside his mouth and sees that she is indeed outside already, asleep. She begs herself to wake up and eventually the crowd closing in on her fades away. She wakes up to her sister chiding her for falling asleep during lessons. Her sister smiles and decides that Alice is young and she'll grow up a little later. That's right, she was asleep the whole time. It was all a very odd dream.
That was Alice in Wonderland in a nutshell. A story about a girl who dreams of silliness, gets it, then comes back from it basically none the wiser. Like the book, it's all nonsense with no real lesson at the end. The film, like all other Alice in Wonderland productions up to that point, did not do very well in the box office. While Disney did hit budget, it did much worse than Cinderella and was considered a dud when it released in 1951. However, years later in the 60's, the film became associated with the drug culture, as the book had, and become known as a "head film," along with Fantasia and The Three Caballeros. Those movies, along with Alice, were widely shown in college towns and became so popular that Disney pulled the prints they showed at universities and released it in theaters again in 1974, where it was basically advertised as a "psychedelic film." The re-release was so popular that they did it again in 1981. So that's Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland. Stay tuned for the second part, in which I discuss the novel it came from.