Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland

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The Weirdness of Jon Scieszka and Alice in Wonderland Mesh in This Picture Book

Nov 29, 2011
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:vibrant drawings, great choice of author

Cons:Alice in Wonderland tends to freak me out

The Bottom Line: Mary Blair's concept art and Jon Scieszka's wacky narration bring Alice in Wonderland to vivid life.


Disney has presented many fantastical worlds that I have longed to enter. I’ve wanted to soar over the island of Neverland with Peter Pan and ride a carousel horse through the countryside in Bert’s chalk drawing, and I always thought the Hundred-Acre Wood would be a mighty nice place to settle down. However, one place I never particularly wanted to visit was Wonderland.

Yes, the Lewis Carroll story is richly imaginative. Yes, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel became friends after appearing together in an elementary school adaptation of the classic. Yes, it was a major influence on LOST. However, none of that changes the fact that it Freaks. Me. Out. If I’m going to go tumbling off into a magical realm, I’d prefer one that feels a little less antagonistic.

Alice in Wonderland is a weird story. Jon Scieszka, the prolific author of such skewered tales as The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, seems an inspired choice to retell it for the recent picture book edition of the Disney version, which is illustrated with concept art created by iconic Disney artist Mary Blair when the movie was being developed. Like the comparable editions of Cinderella and Peter Pan, this is missing a couple of characters, but the main ones are accounted for, from the big-grinned Cheshire Cat and the terrifying Queen of Hearts to the dopey Tweedledee and Tweedledum and the batty Mad Hatter.

Scieszka writes with a rambly style here, capturing Alice’s confusion and the way that her mind darts from one subject to the next. He also frequently directly addresses the reader, encouraging identification with Alice. In fact, the book begins with a question, and it’s one that I imagine countless children could answer in the affirmative: “Have you ever tried to listen to a long, boring schoolbook on a warm, lazy day?”

The look of the book is very eye-catching, with different colors serving as the backdrops for each page of text. Shades of pink, green, yellow, blue and purple alternate, sometimes with illustrations creeping toward the text, sometimes with nothing but the words on the page. Most paintings take up a full page, however, and these are very vibrant and sometimes a bit alarming. The Walrus looks downright malevolent as he marches a line of curious oysters off to their doom, and fierce flowers appear on several pages. On the other hand, the small painting of Alice and the White Rabbit standing side by side against a pale pink backdrop is thoroughly charming.

While I don’t like it quite as much as the other two picture books featuring Blair’s concept art, Alice in Wonderland certainly allows readers to feel that they have fallen into a dreamscape just like Alice, who, Scieszka notes, spends such a long time in the air during her descent through the rabbit hole that she is able to mentally do all the homework she was avoiding under the tree (though most of it is incorrect).

“You know how it is with some people,” Scieszka writes toward the end of his tale. “Sometimes they get too grown up to understand.” Alice in Wonderland is a tale about holding onto the gifts of a vivid imagination. That is a notion I can certainly get behind, even if Alice’s mind happens to be a pretty scary place.

This review is a part of the All Things Disney Write-Off and the Lean and Mean X Write-Off.


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