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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I am sure most of you have seen Alice in Wonderland at one time or another. Based on Lewis Carol's book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the movie is one of those entertaining yet odd Disney animated classics. The story follows Alice, a young girl who prefers the nonsense world of her dreams to her history lesson, who while on a break from her lessons, becomes distracted by a talking white rabbit. As she follows after him, she falls down a hole into a bizarre world where all the animals and flowers talk, a cat mysteriously appears and disappears, a most unusual tea party occurs, and much more. It is a world of pure nonsense, just like the one Alice longed to inhabit instead of studying. However, she soon begins to appreciate that pure nonsense is not all fun and games, and after a little exploration, she finds herself trying to escape from the imaginary world she created.
Over the last year or so, Disney seems to have been working on finding a good balance of bonus material that satisfies its varied audience. This means including something for children, parents, general home theater buffs, and hardcore Disney animation fans. It is a tall order, and within the restrictions of things such as budgets and disc capacity, Disney appears to have found a pretty good compromise. While the bonus material is not as deep as one of the Platinum Collector's edition DVD sets, this two-disc Masterpiece edition features a very respectable collection of stuff for the whole family.
Disc 1 features mostly goodies for the younger family members. There is the requisite set-top game, Sing-Along Songs versions of The Unbirthday Song and All in the Golden Afternoon, and the classic Mickey Mouse animated short, Thru the Mirror. There is also a rather brief reconstruction of a lost Cheshire Cat song called I'm Odd, which is played over scenes from the movie. While mildly interesting, I can see why it was cut from the film.
The final goodie of note is the virtual Wonderland party. Hosted by Alice and the Mad Hatter (who may look a wee bit familiar to those of you who frequented Disneyland's Aladdin's Oasis a while backYes, yes), the party allows young viewers to interactively choose and play games, sing songs, and dance along with the hosts and the children at the party. It is a bit corny for me, but my two young boys seem to enjoy it quite a bit.
Disc 2 delves into more of the historical aspects of this production, and this was the disc that I found most interesting. Walt Disney's first television show from 1950, One Hour In Wonderland, is presented in its entirety. The television portions are in black and white, but the animated sections are in color, including scenes from Snow White, Song of the South, and Alice in Wonderland. Also featured in the show are Walt, Kathryn Beaumont, Bobby Driscol, the Firehouse Five Plus Two, and Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. It is a Disney television classic and well worth watching.
Also on the disc are several shorter historical items of note. The first is the 1951 Operation Wonderland featurette, which appeared on the Gold Collection edition of Alice. Besides getting to watch some great shots of Walt riding his model train around the studio, you get a pretty goodalbeit shortoverview of how Alice in Wonderland was produced. There are about 30 minutes of television excerpts from The Fred Waring Show, which was the first public presentation of many of the songs from the movie. The songs are sung by Kathryn Beaumont, Sterling Holloway, and other members of the television show, and there are also several clips of the movie. It is a neat look back at how Walt promoted his animated films outside of his own television presentations.
Other short items that I found interesting include Walt's 1954 and 1964 television introductions for Alice, six original song demos, a storyboard reconstruction, a music evolution featurette, a still gallery with about 60 items, and one of the original episodes of The Alice Comedies. Overall, it is a nice collection of historical footage.
The only shortcoming I found was that there was no commentary. I really enjoy listening to commentaries on DVDs like Fantasia and Snow White, which feature contemporary insights by animation historians and production staff interspersed with archive audio of Walt talking about his movies. They are not only interesting and informative, but also provide access to additional historical information that we would not otherwise have. I am quite certain there are a number of issues to overcome in producing something like that, but it sure makes for compelling audio entertainment for animation and Disney fans, like myself. Other than that, though, there is something for just about everybody in the family on this set.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
On top of all the bonus material, the audio and video of this Disney classic have been fully restored. The video transfer, taken from a new high-definition master, looks great, with saturated and vibrant colors. To appreciate just how much better the restored video looks, just look at the Sing-Along Songs on Disc 1 or the Alice segment of One Hour in Wonderland on Disc 2. It is like night and day, and the difference between the Gold edition DVD and this release is similarly obvious. The audio is rather simple, since it was originally just a monophonic soundtrack, and the remastered surround soundtrack is more than acceptable even though it is not terribly dynamic.
As for the interface, it is very simple and not nearly as impressive as the Platinum DVD editions. However, it is functional and easy enough to navigate by everyone in the family.
The Final Evaluation
While this set falls a bit short of the stunning two-disc Platinum DVD collections, it still provides a very compelling collection of goodies along with a beautifully restored movie. Fans of the movie will want to add this set to their home video collection, and those who picked up the old Gold DVD edition a while back will probably find the upgrade well worth it, especially if you pick it up at a discount or warehouse store.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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