ALICE IN BLU-RAY LAND @ 10 February 2011 09:54 PM

Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite books. I enjoy watching version after version, each taking a shot at making Lewis Carroll's dreamlike, episodic prose and poetry into a film or TV production that is cohesive and at the same time, worthy of the fantastic images we all have in our minds as we read.

Unless the story is changed markedly--as Tim Burton did with his 2010 version, the only big screen Alice that was a box office smash--many have tried with varying results. Walt Disney's 1951 version, which is presented for the first time on a 60th Anniversary Blu-Ray combo package in this edition also including a not-quite-so-decked-out-with-bonus-materials DVD.

The Alice material was clearly close to Walt Disney since he did his own twist on the idea in his first successful film series, the Alice comedies, in which a live action Virginia Davis interacted with animated creatures. Alice in Wonderland was also almost the first Disney animated feature until Snow White was ultimately selected. Mary Pickford was to play a live Alice for Disney, along with Ginger Rogers--and even Margaret O'Brien, whose mother turned it down because of the price offered (a fact she recently told talk show host Stu Shostak on a recent broadcast).

By the time Alice was underway as an all-animated feature, the studio was still hurting from WWII losses, the 1950 release Cinderella had helped things considerably and high hopes were dashed when Alice initially underperformed at the box office.

The musical score lived on through the decades, even though the film was out of general release for 23 years and shown twice in edited form on TV. The ultimate public embrace of Disney's Alice came over the last few decades as it became a staple of home video and cable TV. Now, as Alice voice Kathryn Beaumont states quite truthfully in the new bonus documentary, it is absolutely now one of the most popular and beloved Disney animated features.

The very things that were problematic for Alice as a '50s movie have become assets in modern times. The choppy, episodic nature makes it ideal for television and video. It's loose, zany, irreverant style is welcome to kids brought up on Spongebob and Bullwinkle. The voice cast, once almost completely well-known to the world at large, now fits the characters better than ever--and have become iconic on their own And perhaps above all, the look of the film is a monument to the legendary Disney art director Mary Blair. See the recent New York Times review for more about that.

For those on the fence about investing in Blu-ray, Alice provides a very strong argument. The crisp angles are razor sharp and each color's nuance is shown to best advantage.

But my favorite feature on the Blu-ray disc is "Through the Keyhole-A Companion's Guide to Wonderland," which is better described as a "video commentary." Like an audio commentary, this bonus feature accompanies the entire film, which plays on one part of the screen or another while expert commentators like Brian Sibley, Paula Sigman and many others discuss the film, Walt Disney, and especially Lewis Carroll, in a very sensitive and non-sensational way, offering thoughtful insights and endless details.

For DVD owners, you may want to keep your previous editions (there are three) to hang onto all the features, many of which have been included only on the Blu-ray this time around (though DVD player owners can still enjoy very nice "Reflections on Alice" featurette, which includes comments from the marvelously effervescent Stacia Martin and others). But I still don't think that absolutely all the marvelous features from the wondrous laserdisc of Alice have all been included on any DVD or Blu-ray.

But if they want to do another reissue, that's fine with me. Like Mary Poppins, regular home video reissues keep the films fresh and in the public eye. If that makes me a little "mad," well, don't let's be silly!

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