CFS: ‘Alice in Wonderland’

Conor Chemidlin

“Alice in Wonderland” remains one of the most beloved and memorable films in the vault of Disney animated features.

Soon after the creation of his small studio in 1923, Walt Disney began dreaming of adapting Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic. The animator would wrestle with the idea for several decades, until he decided to personally supervise the project in 1951.

Recognizing the difficulty in adapting Carroll’s complex writing, Disney chose to place his focus on the film’s visuals and music rather than the narrative.

The adaptation was made significantly more lighthearted, although many of Carroll’s poems and lyrics are still represented through some of the film’s musical numbers.

Disney’s most important decision on the project was how to develop the overall look of the motion picture.

The animator recognized a need to depart from the book’s 19th-century illustrations by Sir John Tenniel in search of something more modern and captivating.

For this task he turned to graphic designer Mary Blair, who combined a bold use of color and geometric shapes to give Wonderland a surreal yet recognizable feel. Blair’s visuals truly embody the playfulness and fantastical qualities of Carroll’s writing that Disney had dreamed of translating to the silver screen.

Blair was one of only a handful of female artists to work for Disney’s studio at the time and left a profound impact on the industry.

In addition to her work on “Alice in Wonderland,” Blair was also credited for the color styling on “Cinderella” and “Peter Pan” in 1950 and 1953, respectively. Her modernist style of art can be felt in much of the concept design that went into all three of these films.

Blair is also the creative force behind one of the most beloved theme park attractions of all time. In 1964, she designed “It’s a Small World” for the World’s Fair, which would later find a home in Disneyland where it has since established itself as the park’s icon.

The ninth feature in the Spring 2009 Villanova Cultural Film and Lecture Series will be shown this weekend in the Connelly Cinema: Saturday, April 4 at 7 p.m.; Sunday, April 5 at 3:30 and 7 p.m.; and Monday, April 6 at 7 p.m.

Joe Ansolabehere will introduce the film and lead a discussion following the screening.

Ansolabehere has produced and written for a number of animated television shows which include “Rugrats” and “Hey Arnold!” He is also a co-creator of the Walt Disney produced show “Recess” and wrote the animated feature film “Recess: School’s Out.”