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Disney in Wonderland: A Comparative Analysis of Disney's Alice in Wonderland Film Adaptations from 1951 and 2010

Bachelorarbeit 2011 78 Seiten


Table of Contents


1. The literary model – Lewis Carroll’s novels
2. Theory of adaptation
2.1 Traditional adaptation discourse
2.2 Adaptation discourse beyond ‘betrayal’ and ‘infidelity’
3. The medium of animation
3.1 The technique of animation
3.2 The technique of computer-generated animation
3.3 The creative challenges of animation
3.4 The possibilities of animation

4. Adapting Alice in Wonderland
4.1 Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951)
4.2 Disney’s Alice in Wonderland 3-D (2010)
5. The different visualisations of Carroll’s nonsense stories
5.1 John Tenniel’s illustrations
5.2 Alice in Wonderland 1951 – a 2-D cartoon animation
5.3 Alice in Wonderland 2010 – a 3-D fantasy adventure
6. Three different Alices
6.1 Lewis Carroll’s and John Tenniel’s Alice
6.2 Disney’s cartoon Alice 1951
6.3 Disney’s, Woolverton’s, and Burton’s Alice 2010
7. Disney and Burton in Wonderland
7.1 Walt Disney’s influence on the story and style of the 1951 adaptation
7.2 Tim Burton’s influence on the story and style of the 2010 adaptation
8. Responses to both adaptations
8.1 Responses to Alice in Wonderland 1951
8.2 Responses to Alice in Wonderland 2010
9. Conclusion

Works Cited
a. Books and articles
b. Internet sources

Table of Figures

A) Fig. 4
B) Alice in Cartoonland
C) Examples of Alice illustrators (except John Tenniel)
D) Examples of Alice works
E) Statutory declaration


“Every thing’s got a moral, if only you can find it.” – Lewis Carroll 1865 (Gardner 2001: 95) In 2015, the first edition of Alice in Wonderland will have its 150th anniversary. The novel as well as its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There have been read by people of all ages and all origins ever since. Due to the widespread success of the literary work, Lewis Carroll’s novels have not only been illustrated by hundreds of artists, but also frequently adapted for film, theatre, opera, music, and other forms of art. Among these numerous adaptations are two motion pictures produced by the Walt Disney Company, which is known for warm-hearted movies for audiences of all ages. The relationship between Alice in Wonderland and Walt Disney even dates back to 1923 when he founded the famous film studio due to a distribution contract for his first completed short film called Alice’s Wonderland.

This thesis, however, focuses on the Disney adaptation from 1951 – a 2-D cartoon animation – as well as the most recent film adaptation from 2010 – a combination of live-action film and computer-generated animation. Thus, the main part of this thesis constitutes a comparative analysis of both adaptations regarding the following aspects: the evolution of the visualisations, the different characters of the heroine Alice, the influences of Walt Disney and Tim Burton on the story lines and the styles of the adaptations, and the responses to both films. Thereby, the following research questions should be answered:

- What are the specificities of Carroll’s novels? Why did it attract so many filmmakers?
- Why did both adaptations employ the medium of animation? Did the medium get implemented successfully?
- How did Walt Disney and Tim Burton affect the story lines and the styles of the adaptations? How did the heroine’s character change under their influence?
- How did the audiences react to the adaptations? What are the reasons for that?

The first theoretical part hence starts with a description of the literary model (chapter 1), which aims at defining the novels’ specificities respectively the essence Carroll tried to convey. Chapter 2 outlines the most important issues of today’s adaptation discourse, since the theory of adaptation serves as the theoretical basis for the comparative analysis. In chapter 3, an overview of the medium of animation will be given, including the medium’s possibilities and challenges as well as its techniques. With chapter 4, the comparative analysis begins by giving contextual information about both films. Afterwards, the before mentioned aspects will be compared: the different visualisations (chapter 5), the different Alices (chapter 6), the different influences (chapter 7), and the different responses (chapter 8). In chapter 9, the preliminary findings will be shortly summarised, and the research questions will be answered. Accordingly, this thesis’ moral can be found in the conclusion.

Additionally, the comparative analysis contains a lot of pictures and screenshots from the movies’ scenes in order to illustrate the stated arguments. Regarding this, I sympathise with Alice: “what is the use of a book [...] without pictures or conversations?” (Carroll 1865; Gardner 2001: 11).


1. The literary model – Lewis Carroll’s novels

In 1865, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who is better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, published the first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which should become a classic of English literature in the course of the following 150 years. When he went on a boating trip up the Thames with the three daughters of Dean Henry George Liddell in 1862, he invented the story of Alice in order to entertain his little companions. Alice Liddell, after whom the adventurous girl got named, asked him afterwards to write the story down for her. Lewis Carroll then gave her a written version illustrated by himself as Christmas present. In order to publish the novel for a wider audience, Carroll engaged the caricaturist John Tenniel to illustrate his story. (Gardner 2001: 11 ff.; O’Sullivan 2010: 60 ff.).

The novel, that is beloved by children as well as adults all around the world, tells the story of a little girl’s adventures underground. The seven-year-old Alice follows a White Rabbit, falls down the rabbit hole, and enters a fantasy world full of peculiar creatures. In this Wonderland, conventional logic is invalid. Fluids can make you shrink, cakes can make you grow, and mushrooms can do either. Nowadays, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the abbreviated title of which (Alice in Wonderland) is more common, is one of the most popular examples of Nonsense Literature. Nonsense is – according to Wim Tigges – characterised by “the ability to wrongly reduce an argument ad absurdum and backwards, to ‘play’ with language and thereby with the reality that lies behind it, not in a haphazard fashion, leaving the result to accident, but to obtain the insight that every ‘sense’, every ‘reality’ has its reverse, and to keep these two sides of the coin in perfect balance.” (Tigges 1987: 23-46).

In this manner, Lewis Carroll plays with logic, language, and meaning as well as the readers’ expectations, but his world – paradoxical as it may be – is always coherent as a whole. Though it is called nonsense, it does make sense, but not in the usual, common way.

Alice in Wonderland constitutes a revolution in children’s literature, since it was one of the first novels with the only purpose of entertaining children. Unlike the convenient literature of that time, it does not want to convey moral values. It makes fun of them instead, for example by parodying moralising verses of the Victorian society. “It was the coming to the surface, powerfully and permanently, the first unapologetic, undocumented appearance in print, for readers who sorely needed it, of liberty of thought in children’s books.” (Darton 1932: 268). However, Lewis Carroll yet strictly divides between Wonderland – the world of puns, portmanteaus, and parodies – and the real world – 19th century Victorian England with its moral concepts.

The sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, was published six years later and contains similar plays with logic, language and space and time. What is Wonderland in the first novel is Looking-Glass-Land in the second, a mirrored world, where time is running backwards and everything works conversely compared to the real world. Whereas Wonderland ’s monarchy is symbolised by the game of cards, Looking-Glass-Land is organised around the game of chess.

Altogether, both novels became popular and beloved among an audience of all ages in such a way that they have been analysed and adapted for different media many times ever since. Consequently, there are different opinions about the novels’ specificities or their essence. However, the prevailing view is that Lewis Carroll wrote about a child’s experiences in a bewildering adults’ world, the arduous process of growing up, and finding oneself as well as meaning in an otherwise meaningless world. (Brooker 2004: 93; Rackin 1966: 313-326).

2. Theory of adaptation

“Adaptation has run amok“. (Hutcheon 2006: XI).

With this statement, Linda Hutcheon connotes the fact that adaptations are omnipresent in the postmodern world. This does not only refer to film adaptations of novels, but to nearly every form of art and every kind of medium. Novels, poems, fairy tales, comics, stage plays, songs, paintings, or films tell stories which are adopted and told again in novels, songs, films, and so forth. The development of new media, therefore, entails new possibilities of telling or retelling stories and leads to what Hutcheon calls the ‘running amok’ of adaptation. However, this phenomenon is not only related to postmodern societies. For example, “[t]he Victorians had a habit of adapting just about everything – and in just about every possible direction” (ibid.). Yet, the traditional discourse of adaptation theory mainly considered the process of adapting literature to film.

2.1 Traditional adaptation discourse

Since the traditional adaptation discourse dealt with novels and films, the two media have been opposed and compared. As Robert Stam points out: “Film [...] is a form of writing that borrows from other forms of writing.” (Stam 2005: 1). This implies that filmic adaptations of novels arise second in terms of time. Accordingly, the chronological secondariness of films has too often seduced theorists to ascribe inferiority to the adaptation. Furthermore, this imputed inferiority appears ambiguously: not only is the specific novel prior to its adaptation, but also is the medium of literature prior to the medium of cinema or film. In the sense of Marshall McLuhan’s “rear view mirror”, this means that literature is considered superior to cinema because of its anteriority. Since arts gain prestige over time, older arts appear to be better arts. (Ibid.: 4). Consequently, new media are often accepted reluctantly and watched warily. Critics who suggest that “it takes no brains to sit down and watch a film” (Ibid.: 7), ignore the work that it takes to understand what one sees during the process of reception. The negative connotations of mass audiences and commercialisation support the critique’s view of cinema’s inferiority to literature.

“Adaptations, in this light, are the inevitably ‘dumbed down’ versions of their source novels, designed to gratify an audience lacking in what Bourdieu calls ‘cultural capital,’ an audience which prefers the cotton candy of entertainment to the gourmet delights of literature.” (Ibid.).

Probably, critics of the cinema imply that it requires less effort to watch a film than to read a novel, since the reader has to fill in mentally what is not explicitly mentioned. While reading a book, one usually imagines what a character looks like or how the atmosphere in the actual scene feels like. Thus, the mind’s imagination seems responsible for experiencing the written story. (Gaudreault and Marion 2004: 68). In case the novel gets adapted for cinema, the reader often is disappointed by the movie, because the presented pictures do not fit the imagined world. The result is the loss of the “own phantasmatic relation to the source text” (Stam 2005: 15), since one cannot reproduce the originally imagined pictures when reading the book again.

Like the reader who compares an adaptation with his imaginations of the novel the traditional adaptation discourse concentrated on comparisons of film and novel, judging the film according to its fidelity to the original or source. “Such discourse [...] tends to, implicitly or explicitly, presume and evaluate some kind of transferability of aesthetic worth.” (Luhr 2004: 278). Concentrating on elaborating what has been ‘left in’ and ‘left out’ by the film, traditional theorists ignored the individuality or autonomy of an adaptation. (Ibid.: 279). Furthermore, this approach disregards what has been ‘gained’ throughout the process of adaptation (Stam 2005: 3) and often ignores to define the criteria for fidelity or faithfulness. To what should the film be faithful? Should it be faithful to the original plot, to the physical attributes of the characters, or to the author’s intentions? Therewith, the next problem becomes apparent. Talking about the essence or spirit of any text must be subjective and ignores other possible readings. Thus, it is questionable whether a novel contains an indisputably definable essence. (Ibid.: 15). “In fact, when critics refer to the ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’ of a literary text what they usually mean is the critical consensus within an ‘interpretative community’ (Stanley Fish) about the meaning of the work.” (Ibid.).

Another argument against restricting oneself to the study of fidelity while dealing with adaptations is that films which retell the story of a novel as faithful as possible are often very unsuccessful. “If one has nothing new to say about a novel, Orson Welles once suggested, why adapt it at all?” (Ibid.: 16). Thus, the judgmental ideal of fidelity is neither a formula for successful films nor an appropriate criterion for analysing and evaluating adaptations. Otherwise, many successful films should have gone down badly with the critics because of infidelity to their source novels, if these are known at all. Furthermore, one could even claim that absolute fidelity is impossible, since filmic adaptations of novels include inevitable changes due to the transfer from one medium to another. Despite the initial wariness towards the cinema, the medium film offers a multitude of possibilities that literature is not capable of, like music, sound, and moving pictures. Absolute fidelity, therefore, is not just undesirable but also unconvertible. (Ibid.: 17).

Nonetheless, the often criticised discourse of fidelity earns acknowledgement for its analytical work. Examining the similarities and differences between film and novel can contribute to a better understanding of novel and adaptation, since it compares important issues like characters, plot, or style of the stories. (Ibid.: 14). Hence, this thesis suggests interpretations of the novel’s and films’ different essences, but not in order to discuss the adaptations’ fidelity to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s rather the suggestion of one possible reading of the stories and an approach to take the adaptations seriously as adaptations, that is to acknowledge their individuality.

2.2 Adaptation discourse beyond ‘betrayal’ and ‘infidelity’

“After all, the work of other writers is one of a writer’s main sources of input, so don’t hesitate to use it; just because somebody else has an idea doesn’t mean you can’t take that idea and develop a new twist for it. Adaptations may become quite legitimate adoptions.” (William S. Burroughs, quoted by Hutcheon 2006: V).

As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, adaptations are omnipresent in the modern world. While Virginia Woolf spoke of film as a “parasite”, and of literature as its “prey” in 1926 (ibid.: 3), theorists plead for more open-minded approaches in analysing adaptations today. Not only are 85% of Oscar-winning Best Pictures adaptations (ibid.: 3; Stam 2005: 45), but also nearly every film is based on a formerly existing story, may it be a novel, a fairy tale, a comic, a play, a song, or something else. (Stam 2005: 45). One could go even further: “William Goldman sees the finished film as the studio’s adaptation of the editor’s adaptation of the director’s adaptation of the actor’s adaptation of the screenwriter’s adaptation of a novel that might itself be an adaptation of narrative or generic conventions.” (Hutcheon 2006: 83).

Consequently, the need for an adaptation discourse beyond the terms faithfulness and fidelity becomes apparent. Here, the concepts of Julia Kristeva’s intertextuality or Gerard Genette’s further developed transtextuality offer a new approach. Both include the transposition of one text or system of signs into another one “by operations of selections, amplification, concretization and actualization” (Stam et al. 1992: 209) in their definition of adaptation. The anterior text or system of signs, thereby, constitutes the so-called hypotext, the transformed hypotext then becomes the hypertext. The hypertext itself can become the hypotext or part of the all the hypotext available for later adaptations. These terms express the natural relation between for example novel (hypotext) and filmic adaptation (hypertext) and focus on the multitude of possible transformative operations in the adaptation process without moralistic judging. (Ibid.).

Robert Stam as well pleads for a less moralistic discourse of adaptation and calls attention to the essential transformative operations when he asks: “Do not adaptations ‘adapt to’ changing environments and changing tastes, as well as to a new medium, with its distinct industrial demands, commercial pressures, censorship taboos, and aesthetic norms?” (Stam 2005: 3). The demand for fidelity to the hypotext, in this light, seems absurd. Alternatively, adaptations should be seen as legitimate narratological media, not inferior to literature. Robert Stam, therefore, proposes similar concepts for looking at adaptations like Kristeva and Genette:

“The source novel [...] can be seen as a situated utterance, produced in one medium and in one historical and social context, and later transformed into another, equally situated utterance, produced in a different context and relayed through a different medium (Ibid.: 45 f.).

The transforming of one utterance into another utterance constitutes the process of adaptation and can be attained through “reading, rewriting, critique, translation, transmutation, metamorphosis, recreation, transvocalization, resuscitation, transfiguration, actualization, transmodalization, signifying, performance, dialogization, cannibalization, reinvisioning, incarnation, or reaccentuation” (Ibid.: 25).

This illustrates the difficulty to find an ultimate definition for the term adaptation and at the same time, demonstrates the variety of possibilities and different aspects of adaptations. Depending on what operations get applied in adapting a novel, the story gets reinterpreted in a different way. In the case that the film or hypertext appears a long time after the novel or hypotext, the filmmaker usually enjoys more freedom in transforming the hypotext than in adapting the story shortly after its first appearance. Furthermore, if many adaptations already exist, the request for innovation and infidelity is distinct. (Ibid.: 42).

Consequently, an adaptation discourse beyond the moralistic terms faithfulness and fidelity can be based on an intertextual approach. Not only allows this approach a less judgmental discussion and does not suggest a natural superiority of literature to film, but it also takes adaptations seriously as adaptations. In the following, this thesis will be orientated towards Linda Hutcheon’s scheme for dealing with adaptations: answering the originally journalistic questions of the what, who, why, how, when, and where of adaptations “is always a good place to start” (Hutcheon 2006: XIV).





2.2.1 The what, who, why, how, when and where of adaptations

What? This question deals with the materials of adaptations. In particular, the analysis involves the media of hypotext and hypertext as well as their specificities, since the medium can be defined “as the material means of expression of an adaptation” (ibid.: 34). This is important, because the adaptation of a story often entails a change of medium and, therefore, a change of possibilities of expression. Likewise, Gaudreault and Marion claim that “each medium [...] possesses its own communicational energetics” (Gaudreault and Marion 2004: 65). Film, for example, is a multi-dimensional medium, since it combines several earlier media, like play, photography, painting, and music. On the one hand, this can broaden the possibilities of expression compared to a one-dimensional medium like a novel. On the other hand, novels usually feature a greater complexity, which has to be reduced in the process of adaptation for cinema. (Hutcheon 2006: 36). “Neither performance medium, however, has an easy time transcoding print texts. Telling is not the same as showing. (Ibid.: 43). Therefore, it is important to consider the media’s specificities while analysing adaptations.

Who? This question calls for the adapter. In this regard, novels and films differ enormously. Whereas a novel is usually written by one single person, a film is a collaborative product of a whole team of creative people. As stated in this chapter, studio, editor, director, actors, screenwriter, composer, gaffer, make-up artists and many others contribute to the final outcome of a film production. While the screenwriter is the first one dealing with the literal material in this process of filmmaking, it is the director who is usually made responsible for the overall impression of the film. The actors as well influence this impression, but they are linked more to the screenplay than to the novel. (Ibid.: 85). However, the who of adaptations should mainly consider that person who chiefly decides about the what, why, how, when and where of the process.

Why? The why asks for the adapters’ motivations and – more generally – for the appeal of adaptations. On the one hand, monetary temptations attract filmmakers, since successful films bring in more money at the box offices than it costs to produce them. On the other hand, personal motivations could probably be an even more determining factor for adapting a novel. When a filmmaker is moved by or attracted to a novel, he eventually wants to take a position on it. (Ibid.: 92). “As readers, they [the filmmakers] interpreted the narrative in their own ways; as creators, they then made it their own.” (Ibid.: 111). Thus, it could be the appeal of creating something own on the basis of something known and loved that attracts adapters. In the end, only the adapter himself can really disclose his personal motivations. Likewise, the general appeal of adaptations is difficult to determine, too. Adaptations repeat stories, but do not replicate them. Hence, they require repetition and change at the same time. Not only are the stories themselves considered to be a human universal, since they help to make sense of the world; repeating them also helps to verify ideologies or social values time and again. Change, on the other hand, is a fundamental and natural principle of living. “Perhaps, then, adaptations as repetitions without replication point us simultaneously to both possible ways of defining narrative: as a specific cultural representation of a ‘basic ideology’ and as a general human universal.” (Ibid.: 176). This possibly explains the appeal and popularity of adaptations.

How? This question deals with different kinds of adaptation’s audiences. As shown in the previous paragraph, adaptations are repetition with variation. Thus, watching an adapted film can be an intertextual pleasure, but only for knowing audiences. On the other side, unknowing audiences either do not know the literary model of a film or are even not aware that the film they are watching is the adaptation of an earlier work. The adapter, therefore, has to consider both kinds of audiences – the knowing and the unknowing. Otherwise, the unknowing audience would probably not be able to make sense of the film if the adapter relied too much on the foreknowledge of the source text. (Ibid.: 120 f.). “Known adaptations obviously function similarly to genres: they set up audience expectations through a set of norms that guide our encounter with the adapting work we are experiencing.” (Ibid.: 121). In conclusion, the how of adaptations describes among other things the adapter’s challenge to cope with the expectations and demands of knowing and unknowing audiences. Additionally, it raises the question of all creative decisions that are necessary in the process of adaptation, for example changes of place and time in the story, changes of style in order to broaden the story’s appeal for wider audiences, and so on. Consequently, the how of adaptations is linked to the what, why, when and where.

When? Where? The when and where of adaptations could be examined together, since both ask for the contexts of adaptations. “An adaptation, like the work it adapts, is always framed in a context – a time and a place, a society and a culture; it does not exist in a vacuum.” (Ibid.: 142). Furthermore, different times and places in different societies and cultures entail different values, norms and changes of mind. This influences not only the adapter – on the side of production – but also the audiences – on the side of reception. The reception context includes the marketing and reviews of an adaptation as well as the star status of filmmakers or actors. (Ibid.: 143). In terms of time, the hypotext always comes up earlier as the hypertext, eventually in a different social context. The adaptation, then, often changes the literary source in order to adapt it to changing social discourses. (Stam 2005: 42). However, the where of adaptations is equally important, since it involves possible transfers from one culture to another, and hence the translation from one language into another. “Like evolutionary natural selection, cultural selection is a way to account for the adaptive organization, in this case, of narratives. Like living beings, stories that adapt better than others (through mutation) to an environment survive [...].” (Hutcheon 2006: 167). This way, adaptations even can help their source novels survive. A special case of where and when concerns contemporary Hollywood films. Robert Stam labels Hollywood’s way of storytelling as “aesthetic mainstreaming. [...] Adaptation is seen as a kind of purge. In the name of mass-audience legibility, the novel is ‘cleansed’ of moral ambiguity, narrative interruption, and reflexive meditation.” (Stam 2005: 43). Likewise, Hollywood filmmakers often deem it necessary to adapt a source text to American culture, which means “Americanizing” (Hutcheon 2006: 146) the text. Whatever the when and where of an adaptation might be, it is inevitable to take them into account while analysing adaptations.

On the whole, the concept of the what, who, why, how, when and where of adaptations provides a useful tool for analysing adaptations in a less moralistic way than the fidelity discourse suggests. Adaptations, as argued, are not necessarily inferior to their source texts, or they would not be that popular. Consequently, this concept will be applied in the comparative analysis of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland adaptations, since it provides the necessary contextual information about both films.

3. The medium of animation

“For some presumptuous reason, man feels the need to create something of his own that appears to be living, that has an inner strength, a vitality, a separate identity – something that speaks out with authority – a creation that gives the illusion of life.” (Thomas and Johnston 1981: 13). Likewise, the term animation derives from the Latin word animare, which means ‘giving life’, ‘giving spirit’ or ‘breathing life into’. (Kohlmann 2007: 22). Thus, the medium of animation is not only settled in the realm of technology, but also in the realm of art. In the following, a short overview of the techniques of animation relevant for the comparative analysis of this thesis will be given. Afterwards, the most important challenges as well as the possibilities will be described briefly.

3.1 The technique of animation

The basis of animation is an artificially generated impression of movement. For that purpose the animation artist has to draw many single frames, which differ slightly from one another. By cascading them in a sequence of at least 24 frames per second, the human eye will sense a fluid movement. (Ibid.: 174). In order to save labour, the pictures usually get divided into separate layers. When the background remains constant, while a character acts in the foreground, the layer of the background can be used over and over. (Richter 2008: 65 f.). Otherwise, Disney’s animation artists would have had to draw at least 108,000 pictures for the full-length cartoon animation of Alice in Wonderland 1951 (running time of 75 minutes x 60 seconds per minute x 24 frames per second). In addition to the visualisation, the medium of animation requires the casting of dubbing actors, the addition of the musical score, and the synchronisation of visuals and audio.

3.2 The technique of computer-generated animation

The basis of computer animation is the generation of a sequence of single frames as well. In contrast to the process of cartoon animation, these are not hand-drawn but computer-generated. Since computers are able to generate perspective 3-D graphics, they mainly replace flat 2-D graphics in the animation process. However, it is important to consider that actually all images (on paper or as part of a film) are two-dimensional, but the tool of central perspective creates the impression that smaller objects are further away than bigger objects. (Kohlmann 2007: 38). In order to create movement, another parameter has to be added: time. Animation, thus, is the modification of an object in the course of time. For example, the object changes its appearance or its position in space. There are different techniques to realise such a change in time (Ibid.: 67).

Usually, the process of computer animation takes the following stages: modelling, setting the camera and lighting, designing textures, animating, and rendering. First of all, characters and objects have to be modelled, i.e. their appearance and physics get determined. In the case of full-length computer-generated animation films, video shots of the dubbing actors during their work often establish the basis for the character’s mimics and gesticulation. The stage of modelling also includes costumes, requisites, and the figures’ surroundings. The following step, then, creates artificial tracking shots as well as artificial lights, since the scene does not actually get filmed. Instead, every scene is the result of algorithms computed by high-performance processors. After the setting of the cameras’ and lights’ positions, the animation artist designs textures, which constitute the surfaces’ attributes, for example the transparency or the intensity of a material’s reflections. Afterwards, the actual animation process can be challenged, for example with the aid of key frames. The animator determines two frames on the timeline as key frames (A and B) and the computer calculates the frames in between. In doing so, a character can move from A to B when the sequence of images gets played with 24 frames per second. The last step of computer animation – rendering – is the most computationally intensive. The processor of the PC has to include all previous steps and operations and convert the animation software file into the requested video format. (Ibid.: 61 ff.).

The process of computer animation does not only get applied in full-length animation features or animated shorts, but also for special effects in live-action films, or advertising spots. Alice in Wonderland 2010 contains fully computer-generated characters as well as digitally added surroundings, and computer-generated special effects, for example digitally altered characters.

3.2.1 Motion capturing

One of the animating techniques used for the production of Alice in Wonderland 2010 was the motion capturing technology. The most convenient form of this technology is the optical motion capture. Thereby, the actors wear suits with reflective dots that are recorded with film cameras and digitally transferred to the animated objects or characters afterwards. The actor, thus, just provides the information of the movement for the animators. (Kerlow 2004: 338).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1: The camera recorded the position of the points on Matt Lucas’ fat suit. Afterwards, the information was transferred to the digital bodies of Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

For example, Matt Lucas, who played Tweedledum and Tweedledee, “wore a green, teardrop shaped motion-capture fat suit, which allowed only his face to be seen. [...] Lucas’ facial expressions were recorded and then would be mapped onto the Tweedles’ computer-generated bodies, their movements again built around the actor’s own.” (Salisbury 2010: 210).

3.3 The creative challenges of animation

Technically, animation is the creation of movement. However, the literal meaning of the Latin word animare suggests that there are other, creative challenges in order to ‘give life’ to a not really existing character. Although the technical possibilities increased over the years, animation artists still have to cope with similar creative challenges. Thus, the following description of the challenges and possibilities of animation apply to the 1951 as well as the 2010 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

The overall aim of motion pictures is to build up a connection with the audience. If the audience does not feel involved, the moviegoers get bored and the film is hardly going to be a success. Thus, the film’s characters – in the case of animation the hand-drawn or computer-generated characters – have to be believable, identifiable and lifelike. The character and its actions are believable when the animation artists succeed at conveying the character’s feelings. “Conveying a certain feeling is the essence in any art form. The response of the viewer is an emotional one, because art speaks to the heart.” (Thomas and Johnston 1981: 15). In order to successfully transport emotion, the character’s actions and motives should be human in such a way that the audience is able to identify and comprehend them. Lifelike, thus, does not mean the animated figure should look human, but act in a humanised way. In other words, the character needs personality. “The animator is constantly challenged to depict in an unmistakable yet compelling way that the brain is driving the action.” (Porter and Susman 2000: 27). The audience should be convinced that the character thinks about his actions, that he has personal motives for his actions. During the production process the animators could ask themselves: ‘What is my character thinking?’, ‘What is happening in the scene and what is my character feeling at the moment?’. (Ibid.: 28). If the animator succeeds at creating a lifelike, believable, and identifiable character, the audience will empathise with it consequently. “Once the audience has become involved with your characters and your story, almost anything is possible.” (Thomas and Johnston 1981: 18 f.).

3.4 The possibilities of animation

“Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive.” (Walt Disney, quoted by Thomas and Johnston 1981: 13). If you can cope with the challenges of animation successfully, the possibilities of this medium are nearly infinite. One advantage of the medium of animation is the ability to cross the borders of live-action movies. (Kohlmann 2007: 22 f.). From the early days of the medium film to the present day, animation has always made it possible to realise supernatural happenings or characters that do not exist in the real world. Therefore, Reinhold Reitberger refers to cartoon animation as the perfect medium for Walt Disney, since it made it possible to illustrate those kinds of magical fairy tales Disney used to retell even in the early 20th century. (Reitberger 1979: 116). In Alice in Wonderland 1951, Walt Disney visualises Alice’s changes in size, speaking animals, weird creatures, and other imaginative ideas with the aid of cartoon animation. Another positive specificity of cartoon animation is its universal legibility. Since animation as art form transports emotions visually, it is independent of national languages. The behaviour, mimic and gesticulation of a character can be understood by audiences of nearly all ages and origins. Due to the fact that art speaks to the heart, it constitutes a universal kind of language. (Thomas and Johnston 1981: 15 f.).

Nowadays, nearly every film production makes use of the medium of computer animation. In the form of special effects, computer-generated animation replaces for example expensive crowd scenes or time-consuming model-making. Since this medium is not bound to physical limitations, actually impossible scenes can be realised. For example, too dangerous or inaccessible tracking shots like the interior view of a tornado (Twister 1996) or the inside of a human brain (Fight Club 1999) can be simulated digitally. (Richter 2008: 121). More and more frequently, partially or fully animated scenes are combined with filmed shots without anyone recognising this montage. (Ibid.: 14). As a result, the process of film production has changed. Today, the focus is on post-production rather than the actual process of shooting. That also was the case with Alice in Wonderland 2010. Most of Burton’s creative ideas were digitally generated and added to the filmed material after the shooting. His Wonderland – called Underland – and some characters were created solely digital, others were digitally modified.

On the whole, both Disney adaptations of Alice in Wonderland owe a lot to the medium of animation. In particular the specificities of Wonderland and Underland would have been harder or even impossible to realise without animation. Thus, it enabled Walt Disney and Tim Burton to turn their creative ideas into a film.


4. Adapting Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice in Wonderland as well as its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There came up in 1865 and have been very often adapted ever since. These adaptations include not only film versions of the novel, but also songs, operas, paintings, stage plays, and computer games. Additionally, there are at least as many works of art influenced by or based on Alice in Wonderland, which do not count as adaptations or which pick up only one or few characters (see appendix D). So far, 35 filmic adaptations for cinema or television have been produced. These encompass different types of film, like animation and live-action films, as well as different genres, for example children’s movies, film versions of stage plays, musicals, or even porn movies. (Wikipedia 2011: Alice im Wunderland). Among these 35 film adaptations, there are two versions by the Walt Disney Company. While the first one came up in the lifetime of Walt Disney, the second adaptation was produced 44 years after his death and 59 years after the first one.

In the following, the what, who, why, how, when and where of both Disney adaptations of Alice in Wonderland will be examined, without claiming to cover everything, since several questions cannot be answered until the comparative analysis in this part has been realised.

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4.1 Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951) [25.06.2011].

What? In 1951, the Walt Disney Company released a full-length cartoon animation called Alice in Wonderland. It was the 8th filmic adaptation of Carroll’s novel, but the first completely animated motion picture with a running time of 75 minutes. (Maltin 1995: 101). The film combines characters as well as narratives from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, whereas some characters or parts of the story were left out. Compared to other filmic adaptations, though, Disney’s motion picture retains a lot of Carroll’s original ideas. In Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, the 7-year-old Alice follows a White Rabbit with a waistcoat and a watch and falls down the rabbit hole. After puzzling processes of shrinking and growing Alice floats in a pool of tears and participates in a drying Caucus Race. When she follows the White Rabbit through Wonderland, she meets peculiar characters like Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the talking Live Flowers, and the Cheshire Cat. Alice gets stuck in the White Rabbit’s house, has a conversation with the Caterpillar, which turns into a butterfly afterwards, and joins the Mad Tea Party. After getting lost in a dark and scary Tulgey Wood, the Cheshire Cat shows Alice a way into the Queen of Heart’s garden. During a play of croquet Alice displeases the Queen and is therefore brought to trial. Not only during the trial Disney’s characters use quotations from the literary model, for example the Queen’s “sentence first, verdict afterwards”, or Alice’s exclamation “You’re nothing but a pack of cards”. In order to escape, Alice flees from the Queen and her card soldiers. That’s when she realises that she is asleep in the real world and forces herself to wake up. In the end, Disney’s Alice leaves for home with her sister – happy that Wonderland was just a dream.

While Disney retained a lot of Carroll’s story lines of the Alice novels, the medium of the adaptation is a completely different one. The way from novel to cartoon animation could not have been paced without changes. The discussion of Walt Disney’s implementation of animation will be part of the comparative analysis of both adaptations (chapter 5.2).

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Fig. 2: Walt Disney, who lived from 1901 to 1966, ranks as the legendary head of a ‘magic kingdom’.

Who? In the case of Disney’s 1951 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, Walt Disney can be considered as the adapter, since he was personally responsible for the final outcome of the film production. However, all the other persons involved in the production process contributed to the film’s development. Witness the production supervisor Ben Sharpsteen, the directors Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson, as well as the ten animating directors, the screenwriters, the character animators, and last but not least the composer Oliver Wallace. (Ibid.). On the whole, it was Walt Disney, though, who made all important decisions and coordinated the creative work of his employees. One of the film’s directors, Wilfred Jackson, described Walt Disney as follows: “Walt was a very persuasive individual and a very inspiring person and he had the ability to make you want to do what he wanted you to do.” (Thomas and Johnston 1981: 34). Today, Walt Disney is considered to be the pioneer of the branch of animation. Though he was not the first to animate drawn pictures, he was the first to combine animated motion pictures with sound. Thus, Walt Disney was the actuator, who made the animation medium commercially viable for mass audiences. (Wiedemann 2007: 325).

“Thanks to his determination and competence, in the succeeding decades Disney’s tradition and influence on animation became so deep and complex that they created a style that marks, in an indelible way, the history of the art of animation. [...] Disney’s animated movies made the various fairytales and epic tales that already are part of the universal cultural heritage even more popular.” (Ibid.).

Nevertheless, there was another important artist in the development process of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland – graphic designer Mary Blair. Her conceptual, surreal illustrations influenced the visual style of the cartoon animation obviously.

Why? Walt Disney definitely was enthusiastic about Carroll’s novels since the earliest days of his career. Alice’s Wonderland was his first completed short film in 1923, featuring a live girl interacting with animated cartoon animals. When his first own film studio, Laugh-O-Gram, went bankrupt that year, this film was the only thing he could take along to Los Angeles. Although he did not have in mind to carry on animating films and intended to become a movie director in one of Hollywood’s big film studios (Thomas and Johnston 1981: 29), it was due to Alice’s Wonderland that he was able to gain a foothold in that upcoming centre of the worldwide film industry. M. J. Winkler offered him a contract for producing a series of Alice short films, called Alice in Cartoonland. Hence, the day Walt Disney signed this contract is deemed to be the day of the Walt Disney Company ’s foundation. (Platthaus 2001: 32). From 1924 to 1926, Disney produced a series of 57 Alice shorts (see appendix B), the story lines of which were not closely related to Carroll’s novels. Nevertheless, it was due to Alice’s Wonderland and Alice in Cartoonland that the rise of the Walt Disney Company began. In the following years, Disney planned several times to produce a full-length adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, although he was aware of the challenge’s dimension: “When you deal with such a popular classic you’re laying yourself wide open to the critics.” (Walt Disney, quoted by Maltin 1995: 102).

How? Since Walt Disney had to drop his plans for a full-length adaptation of Alice in Wonderland several times – for example because of the 1933 Paramount film version – the question of the how of adaptation changed over the years as well. Firstly, he planned to produce a combination of cartoon animation and live-action movie, and changed his ideas about the starring juvenile actress every once a while. In 1946, he finally announced the making of a full-length cartoon animation orientated towards the style of John Tenniel’s illustrations of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. (Ibid.: 101). Thus, the medium for the adaptation had been determined. In the case of Walt Disney, the question of audiences coheres with all the other work of his company. The Walt Disney studios are mainly known for warm-hearted, dreamlike family movies, especially suitable for children. Usually, Walt Disney took up known fairy tales or folk stories and made cartoon animations out of them, in order to broaden their appeal for an American mass audience. Many theorists call this process Disneyfication. Richard Schickel, for example, defines this term as

“...that shameless process by which everything the Studio later touched, no matter how unique the vision of the original from which the studio worked, was reduced to the limited terms Disney and his people could understand. Magic, mystery, individuality ... were consistently destroyed when a literary work passed through this machine that had been taught there was only one correct way to draw.” (Schickel 1986: 225, quoted by Bryman 2004: 5).



ISBN (eBook)
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Leuphana Universität Lüneburg – Angewandte Kulturwissenschaften
lewis carroll animation walt disney alice wonderland film adaption



Titel: Disney in Wonderland: A Comparative Analysis of Disney's Alice in Wonderland Film Adaptations from 1951 and 2010