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Film / Alice in Wonderland (1949)

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I'm upside down
I'm downside up
At last I'm having my way
The rules for what I ought and oughtn't
Are unimportant today.

A 1949 British-French film based on Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, directed by Dallas Bower and featuring stop motion puppets created by Lou Bunin. This adaptation features a unique Framing Device in which Lewis Carroll (Stephen Murray) tells the story to Alice Liddell (Carol Marsh) and her sisters on a boat ride. A la The Wizard of Oz, several people introduced during the live-action sequences have counterparts in Wonderland, voiced by the same actors.

This film would undoubtedly be more widely known today if it did not have the misfortune of going into production around the same time Disney was making their own Alice in Wonderland. Though the two works have nothing in common apart from being based on the same source material, Disney sensed competition and set out to crush their opponent's chances of success. A lengthy court battle ensued, during which Disney erroneously claimed to own the rights to the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland story itself. Though the case was ultimately thrown out of court, the damage was done and Bower's film was not widely distributed in the United States. Furthermore, it was banned in the UK for portraying the Queen of Hearts as a caricature of Queen Victoria. To this day it remains largely forgotten, with Disney's influence even having had a negative impact on its preservation. Because of their pre-existing arrangement with Technicolor, this film had to be shot in inferior Ansco Color, which deteriorated badly over time.


The film adaptation provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parent: The Duchess, who beats her baby and tosses him around.
  • Adaptational Context Change: In the book the Cheshire Cat asks Alice "How do you like the Queen?" in either a mildly curious or downright sarcastic way, depending on your interpretation. Here it's the Knave of Hearts who poses the question, and it's clear he was being serious as Alice's negative response visibly shocks him.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: The Knave of Hearts, who in the original book was portrayed as a pitiful victim of the ridiculous accusations of the King and Queen. Alice even came to his defence. Here he is undeniably guilty of the theft of the tarts, and conspires with the White Rabbit to frame Alice for the crime. During the trial he still refuses to own up to his wrongdoing, claiming that although the charge incriminates "the Knave of Hearts", he is Alice while she is the Knave. This is made all the more surprising by the fact that he's supposed to be the Wonderland counterpart of Lewis Carroll, who in the Framing Device was nothing but kind to Alice.
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  • Adaptational Villainy: The White Rabbit is depicted here as a self-serving sycophant who frames Alice for the theft of the Queen's tarts while knowing it was the Knave of Hearts who really stole them (having decided to keep the Knave's secret due to wanting to partake of the tarts himself). As a result Alice, rather than the Knave, ends up being the defendant of the trial in this version. The White Rabbit also informs the Queen that the gardeners were painting the roses red (rather than her figuring it out for herself as in the book), leading to what appears to be their real execution.
  • The All-Solving Hammer: Beheading is this for the Queen of Hearts.
  • And You Were There: Several people in the film's real world setting have counterparts in Wonderland. The Vice Chancellor is the White Rabbit, the Queen is the Queen of Hearts, the Prince Consort is the King of Hearts, a tailor is the Mad Hatter, Dr. Liddell is the Cheshire Cat, and Lewis Carroll is the Knave of Hearts.
  • Arc Words: "And so on down the line" comes up several times in songs throughout the film, referring to the varying (and in some cases fleeting) importance of individuals in a society divided by rank and class. It's meant to emphasize how Lewis Carroll created Wonderland as a satire of Victorian England.
  • Artistic License – History: In the And You Were There prologue, Lewis Carroll takes the Liddell sisters on the rowboat trip where he tells them the story of Wonderland during tea party for the visiting Queen Victoria, which the girls weren't allowed to attend. These weren't the circumstances of the real life rowboat trip: it was just a normal outing on a regular summer day, and Carroll would never have taken the girls rowing without their parents' permission. It also took place in 1862, the year after Prince Albert died, yet here he's shown accompanying the Queen on her visit. And of course Alice Liddell is portrayed with long blonde hair like John Tenniel's illustrations of Alice, not with her actual chin-length dark hair.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Alice when she grows in size and inadvertently destroys the White Rabbit's house as a result.
  • Author Avatar: In-Universe, Lewis Carroll's Wonderland equivalent is the Knave of Hearts. That's rather odd, because while Carroll is Alice's friend in the real world, the Knave is antagonistic toward her.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: At first it seems the Knave of Hearts might be confessing during Alice's trial.
    The Knave of Hearts: It's perfectly true what she says. The Knave of Hearts did steal the tarts.
    Jury Members: He did?!
    The Knave of Hearts: Only... [points to Alice] she is the Knave of Hearts.
  • Barefoot Cartoon Animal: Several Wonderland animals including the White Rabbit.
  • The Butler Did It: It is in fact the Knave of Hearts (the liveried manservant of the King and Queen) who is guilty of stealing the Queen's tarts.
  • Cats Are Magic: The disappearing and reappearing Cheshire Cat.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: The Trope Namer himself.
  • Cloudcuckooland: Wonderland as a whole.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The King of Hearts.
    The King of Hearts: (after the Queen, in response to hearing her tarts have been stolen, orders beheadings left and right) Before we are entirely depopulated, my dear, hadn't you better find out who did it?
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The punishment for stealing the Queen's tarts, and any number of other petty offenses, is beheading.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole: How Alice gets to Wonderland.
  • Easy Impersonation: When Alice reads out the charge stating that the Knave of Hearts stole the Queen's tarts, he responds by claiming that she is the Knave while he is Alice. Everyone in the courtroom believes him based on that simple statement.
  • Evil Is Hammy: The Queen of Hearts, who has No Indoor Voice.
  • Fanfare: Used throughout the film to signify the arrival of the King and Queen of Hearts.
  • Follow the White Rabbit: The main story begins with Alice literally doing this.
  • Gasp!: The White Rabbit's reaction to the King of Hearts saying Alice needs a trial before being executed. His monocle even drops off.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The Queen of Hearts, who is eager to chop off the heads of any who displease her.
  • Gonk: Though one could argue that any of the puppets could be seen as creepy, the Queen of Hearts stands out as absolutely repulsive. She is a hideously exaggerated caricature of Queen Victoria (so much so that the film was initially banned in Britain because of it) with a very fish-like face.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: The Queen of Hearts is known for having one, which is the reason her gardeners are so frightened of her finding out they planted roses that were the wrong colour.
  • High-Class Glass: The White Rabbit wears a monocle and has the typical prim and proper personality to go along with it.
  • Historical Domain Character: Lewis Carroll himself, Queen Victoria, and Prince Albert.
  • "I Am" Song: "Play the Game", in which the White Rabbit sings about how much he enjoys being a Professional Butt-Kisser. It could also qualify as a Villain Song due to how antagonistic he is in this version.
  • I Fell for Hours: When Alice goes down the rabbit hole, she finds herself falling so slowly that she has plenty of time to think about her predicament and wonder where she'll end up.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: The Knave of Hearts has long dark hair parted in the middle that swoops into two huge curls sticking out on either side of his head. It's very reminiscent of buffalo horns, oddly enough. None of the other face cards sport such an outlandish hairdo, not even his fellow Knaves, who have traditional pageboy cuts.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Alice at times. One scene has her floating on a bottle talking to a mouse she is now the same size as.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Plenty of it in Alice's trial.
    Alice: That isn't my handwriting!
    The White Rabbit: She must have imitated someone else's hand.
    The Queen of Hearts: That proves her guilt!
  • Intergenerational Friendship: As in Real Life, the adult Lewis Carroll is friends with the Liddell children.
  • It's All About Me: The White Rabbit has a major case of this, not caring who he hurts in order to advance himself. As he says in his song, "If it advances my own chances, I play the game!"
  • Kangaroo Court: Alice's trial, in which nonsensical evidence is presented and everyone is convinced of her guilt merely because the true culprit claims he is her and she is him.
  • Lost Food Grievance: The Queen of Hearts is furious and ready to behead everyone in Wonderland when she realises her tarts have been stolen.
  • The Mad Hatter: The Trope Namer himself, of course.
  • Meaningful Look: The White Rabbit smirks at the Knave of Hearts as he watches him in the procession of the King and Queen's card entourage, causing the latter to bow his head in shame and speed up. It's as if the Rabbit is saying "You and I both know what you did" (the Knave having stolen the Queen's tarts).
  • Mistaken for Thief: Alice is wrongly believed to have stolen the Queen's tarts.
  • Never My Fault: While the Knave of Hearts admits that "the Knave of Hearts did steal the tarts" during the trial, he then claims that Alice is the Knave of Hearts. Also during the song the fish footmen sing, they explain how if one does something wrong, they all blame each other.
  • Nice Guy: Lewis Carroll. He pities Alice when she is not allowed to be present for the Queen's arrival at Oxford, so much so that he surreptitiously slips a tart from the refreshment table to give to her. Then he takes she and her sisters on a boat ride and entertains them with a story.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: In this version, the Queen of Hearts was very deliberately designed to be a caricature of Queen Victoria. It was seen as such an unflattering depiction of her that the film was banned in the UK for 36 years after its release.
  • No Indoor Voice: The Queen of Hearts. Literally every line spoken by her is delivered as a loud, gruff bark.
  • Off with His Head!: The Queen of Hearts threatens to do this to multiple characters, and it is implied that the three cards who painted the roses red were actually executed.
  • Oh, Crap!: The Knave of Hearts when he's caught eating the Queen's stolen tarts by the White Rabbit.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: The White Rabbit, who looks for any chance to advance himself and will not hesitate to resort to unscrupulous ways of doing so.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: In the final scene, Alice wakes up on the boat as Carroll is finishing the story. She asks him if the story was real, as she believes it truly happened. Nearby, the White Rabbit appears and says "Naturally".
  • Perpetual Smiler: The Cheshire Cat
  • Playing Card Motifs: The King and Queen of Hearts and members of their court.
  • Plucky Girl: Alice, who faces her predicaments with courage and determination.
  • Precious Puppy: Unusual for most adaptations, this one includes the scene where Alice encounters the giant puppy. Here it has a ringing bell around its neck as a reference to Oxford's bell Great Tom, featured prominently in the prologue.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: The White Rabbit sings a song about being this. He says he once heard a woman say that day was night. He thought her a dunce and was about to tell her so until he realized she was the Queen of Hearts. Then he said he absolutely agreed with her.
  • Rascally Rabbit: The White Rabbit is very cunning and wily in this version. Here he's arguably more a villain than the Queen of Hearts, as he is manipulating her to achieve his ends. He also has the Knave of Hearts in the palm of his hand, because he caught him in the act of stealing the Queen's tarts, and it's clear he would not hesitate to use that information against him.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The King of Hearts tries to be fair to Alice and attempts to calm his wife when she flies off the handle at her.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The Queen of Hearts is the Red to her husband's Blue.
  • The Scapegoat: Alice is blamed for stealing the Queen's tarts. When the White Rabbit catches the real culprit, the Knave of Hearts, in the act, the latter panics and begs him not to tell the Queen. But the White Rabbit takes a tart for himself and responds "Tell her what? You didn't steal them. Haven't you heard? They were stolen by a stranger", referring to Alice. Later when the Queen discovers the tarts are missing, the White Rabbit is quick to accuse Alice of the crime.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: When he looks into the Room of Doors and sees Alice's flood of tears, the White Rabbit takes off running, leaving a glove and his fan behind.
  • Sizeshifter: Alice becomes one from the magical edibles she keeps finding.
  • The Storyteller: Lewis Carroll, who in this adaptation is telling the main story to Alice Liddell and her sisters on a boat ride (as a reference to the Real Life origin of the book).
  • Tailfin Walking: The fish footmen walk on their tailfins.
  • Talking to Themself: Alice does this while falling down the rabbit hole.
  • The Trickster: The Knave of Hearts, who is depicted as sneaky and sly. Rather than being a possibly innocent trial defendant (as in the original book), it's shown that he is in fact guilty of stealing the Queen's tarts.
  • True Blue Femininity: As in most depictions, Alice wears a blue dress.
  • Truer to the Text: This is one of the most faithful film adaptations of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which makes it all the more unfortunate that it's one of the least known. The narrative sticks relatively closely to the book and does not incorporate elements of Through the Looking-Glass. Some characters rarely seen in adaptations, such as the giant puppy, also appear.
  • White Bunny: The White Rabbit, who is also the Ur-Example.
  • Wicked Heart Symbol: The symbol of the Queen of Hearts, who has a Hair-Trigger Temper and is Ax-Crazy. Also that of the sneaky, not-so-nice Knave of Hearts.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Queen of Hearts wants Alice (played by a 20-year-old here but still intended to be a little girl) beheaded for supposedly stealing her tarts. The White Rabbit knows who the true culprit is but intentionally laid the blame on Alice, fully hoping for her to have a prompt execution. He even looks horrified when the King says there needs to be a trial first.