Much of December's Saturday Matinee articles have focused on atypical Disney cartoons. We started with "Grievance of a Starmaker," a little-seen cartoon that stemmed from a children's contest. The next two weeks saw two Oswalds in a row, rather obscure material to casual Disney fans but suddenly in the limelight again after the discovery of the believed-lost "Hungry Hoboes." And last week, I offered my thoughts on five memorable holiday celebrations in Disney cartoons. This week, we continue with the atypical Disney cartoon by looking at one of Walt's earliest. In addition, this week's Saturday Matinee celebrates the birthday of Walt's earliest star, Virginia Davis. Born December 31, 1918, she played Alice in fifteen cartoon shorts and was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1988, the second year of the award's existence. Davis passed away August 15, 2009, but her fans can still enjoy watching her misadventures in the cartoon world.
"Alice's Wonderland" opens with Alice taking a visit to the cartoon studios. She asks Walt Disney if he can show her how they "draw some funnies." Walt takes her around and we see various live-action settings with animated characters. This was inspired by "Out of the Inkwell," in which an animated clown would climb out of the drawing board and interact with the live-action world. After Walt shows Alice around his studio, we cut to her going to bed that night. She dreams of going into the animated world herself.
Alice's dream becomes a reality as she finds herself on a train that takes her into the animated world. The train goes over several hills and finally arrives at a station. There, various animals are there to greet her. They have a parade in her honor, filled with lots of singing and dancing. However, several lions then escape from the zoo and chase after Alice. She runs away several times, in a tree, in a cave, in a rabbit hole. They continue following her in all three, and eventually Alice runs over a cliff. As she falls, the screen then dissolves back to her bedroom, with her mother waking her up. It was a dream, after all.
In 2005, Leonard Maltin interviewed Virginia Davis about working on the Alice Comedies. This interview was featured in the DVD of "Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities." Davis, who was 86 years old at the time, still had a sharp and keen memory of her time with Walt. She recalls how they actually shot all the live-action portions of the cartoons at her house, and how they could only afford to do one take for everything. Davis also reflects on the cartoons, reviewing them again years later. Her favorite was "Alice's Wild West Show," although "Alice's Day at Sea" is also fondly-remembered (but sadly, not yet on DVD). Years later, after Davis graduated from school, she contacted Walt Disney again. The two remained in contact again, and she even auditioned for Snow White. Maltin asks her to do a line from the film, and Davis does her best Caselotti impression as she proclaims, "And a shoe! This will never do!"
Davis later gave a brief interview for 2009's documentary Brazzle Dazzle Effects: Behind Disney's Movie Magic, available on the "Pete's Dragon: High-Flying Edition" DVD. She reiterates how nice Walt was to her, and how Walt would speak directly to her while they were filming, since it was silent film. He'd give directions like "Look here! Look frightened!" which she would mime. It would certainly be exciting to see more footage from both this interview and her 2005 conversation with Leonard Maltin.
Disney has released ten of the Alice Comedies to DVD, seven of them in "Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities" and three in "Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit." In addition, an incomplete version of "Alice's Wonderland" has been included in the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of 1951's Alice in Wonderland. This version is missing the last couple minutes of the short, as well as some material before the lion chase. VCI Entertainment released the ten-short collection "Alice in Cartoonland by Walt Disney: 35mm Collector's Set" in 2007, while Inkwell Images has a ten-short DVD entitled "Alice in Cartoonland: The Original Alice Comedies by Walt Disney." Due to the overlap between the shorts in all the collections, I've listed them all below:
Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities (Disney):
--"Alice's Wonderland" (1923)
--"Alice's Wild West Show" (1924)
--"Alice Gets in Dutch" (1924)
--"Alice's Egg Plant" (1925) - also on VCI
--"Alice in the Jungle" (1925) - also on VCI, Inkwell
--"Alice's Mysterious Mystery" (1926)
--"Alice the Whaler" (1927) - also on VCI, Inkwell
Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (Disney):
--"Alice Gets Stung" (1925)
--"Alice's Balloon Race" (1926) - also on VCI
--"Alice in the Wooly West" (1926)
Alice in Cartoonland by Walt Disney (VCI):
--"Alice Solves the Puzzle" (1925) - also on Inkwell
--"Alice's Egg Plant" (1925) - also on Disney Rarities, Inkwell
--"Alice�s Tin Pony" (1925)
--"Alice Chops the Suey" (1925)
--"Alice the Jail Bird" (1925)
--"Alice Rattled By Rats" (1925) - also on Inkwell
--"Alice in the Jungle" (1925) - also on Disney Rarities, Inkwell
--"Alice's Balloon Race" (1926) - also on Disney Oswald
--"Alice's Orphan" (1926) - also on Inkwell
--"Alice the Whaler" (1927) - also on Disney Rarities, Inkwell
Alice in Cartoonland: The Original Alice Comedies by Walt Disney (Inkwell Images):
--"Alice the Toreador" (1925)
--"Alice Solves the Puzzle" (1925) - also on VCI
--"Alice's Egg Plant" (1925) - also on Disney Rarities, VCI
--"Alice Gets Stage Struck" (1925)
--"Alice Wins the Derby" (1925)
--"Alice Rattled By Rats" (1925) - also on VCI
--"Alice in the Jungle" (1925) - also on Disney Rarities, VCI
--"Alice on the Farm" (1926)
--"Alice's Orphan" (1926) - also on VCI
--"Alice the Whaler" (1927) - also on Disney Rarities, VCI