Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Alice In Wonderland

Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto grew up loving Disney cartoons to such an extent that even his 1977 feature-length parody of Fantasia, Allegro Non Troppo, is more affectionate than savage. Still, in the documentary accompanying Allegro Non Troppo on the DVD release, Bozzetto sounds envious when he says that the film didn't do as well as it should have, because audiences in his homeland don't support animated films without the Disney logo. He shouldn't complain, because underdog status suits him. Bozzetto's economy-sized Fantasia strings together colorful studies of loneliness, loss, and social absurdity with a coarse, doodling line that wouldn't be out of place in Mad magazine. The film is firmly of its decade, favoring trippy spectacle over storytelling, but Bozzetto's stream-of-consciousness vignettes are wittier and more smartly conceived than most '70s light-shows. When he turns the fruit on a tree into breasts, or the branches of a bush into women's legs, it's not just a sketch of psychedelic erotica, but also a piercing illustration of how the ubiquity of youthful sexuality tortures a sad old man. Bozzetto also riffs on evolution by tracing the rise of a civilization from the sludge in the bottom of a Coke bottle, and in Allegro Non Troppo's most moving segment, he shows a cat stepping through the burned-out wreckage of an old house, remembering where the furniture and people used to be. The movie as a whole ponders the absence of permanence. The burlesque-style live-action segments linking the animation are too long, but the DVD format allows the restless to skip straight to the good stuff. The disc also contains an hour's worth of Bozzetto shorts in addition to the aforementioned documentary, and though that's a substantial package, it still won't satisfy fans, who've long been denied the bulk of Bozzetto's work on home video.

Along those same lines, Disney aficionados will likely (and rightly) balk at the slightness of the new two-disc Alice In Wonderland, which dumps the weirdest of Disney's animated features onto the market with little explanation of how it came to be. Where's the John Canemaker commentary? Where's the featurette on Mary Blair, whose minimalist coloring and art direction defined the studio's more experimental '50s style? The DVD's special features are mainly limited to excerpts from TV shows and film shorts, with Walt Disney trying desperately to sell the American public on Lewis Carroll's druggy satire. As for the movie, it's more an outline of Alice than a full adaptation, but it's still fun to watch the reactions of the heroine, who has the precise diction of a Victorian girl and the loose-limbed posture of a bobbysoxer. Disney's Alice In Wonderland wedges Carroll's puns and asides between songs and free-floating surrealism, effectively throwing the jokes away. Disney tried to make the grotesque, self-absorbed creatures of Carroll's books cute, but even with a streamlined, episodic structure—Alice falls down a rabbit hole, takes drugs, meets a bunch of creeps, takes more drugs, meets more creeps, comes home—the movie has never really caught on with the family-film crowd. Perhaps it's too free-form, or perhaps audiences get too unsettled by the parade of nightmare visions and exaggerated human folly. Alice In Wonderland stands as a fascinating failure, but it also has to be a comfort of sorts to lesser-known masters like Bozzetto that even the Disney studio has had its noble flops.

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