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Alice in Cartoonland (1925-27)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

A Chalice of Alice

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Alice in Cartoonland on DVD

I first discovered these "Alice" cartoon shorts at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival a few years back. Well before Mickey Mouse, Disney created a slew of these unique shorts, which featured a real-life girl performing with animated co-stars against animated backdrops. They're nowhere near Who Framed Roger Rabbit quality, but they're very clever in their own way. For example, Disney and animator Ub Iwerks would "enhance" Alice's "performance" by adding "alarm lines" or a question mark above her head, and when Alice was required to perform a difficult stunt, she would seamlessly turn into an animated "stunt girl." Over the course of the series, which ran between 1924 and 1927 and resulted in more than 50 shorts, several young actresses occupied the "Alice" role, although more and more the stories began to focus on Alice's pal, a cat named Julius. Sometimes the filmmakers would even recycle footage from previous shorts to make new ones. Most of the shorts can be shocking today, containing outrageous violence toward women and children and ridiculous racial stereotypes. But, as Leonard Maltin explains on the Disney sets, it's better to understand these tropes than to censor them.

DVD Details: Disney released seven of these shorts on last year's Disney Rarities: Celebrated Shorts, 1920s - 1960s box set. This new DVD from VCI Entertainment carries over two from that set, Alice the Whaler (1927) and Alice's Egg Plant (1925), and brings us eight more: Alice's Orphan (1926), Alice's Tin Pony (1925), Alice in the Jungle (1925), Alice's Balloon Race (1926), Alice Chops the Suey (1925), Alice Rattled by Rats (1925), Alice the Jail Bird (1925) and Alice Solves the Puzzle (1925). How did VCI get their paws on a Disney property? It's simple: these cartoons are mastered from the sound-era re-releases, which included really annoying sound effects along with canned music. Disney probably wanted nothing to do with them, and apparently, someone rescued them from a garbage bin. But the good news is that they are the only versions of "Alice" that come from 35mm nitrate negatives. I highly recommend watching with the sound turned down. VCI has included three more non-Alice cartoons in their set, Whales Everywhere (which, I believe, is also known as The Prince of Whales), North of Nowhere and Hitting the Trail and (all 1927), making 13 cartoons in all. Also included are extensive liner notes by historians J.B. Kaufman and Russell Merritt about the history of the "Alice" cartoons.

DVD Details II: Inkwell Images were the first to release these Alice films on DVD, back in 2000. But after the more recent releases, Inkwell is back with a "revised edition," Alice in Cartoonland: The Original Alice Comedies by Walt Disney. I haven't seen the 2000 edition, so I can't compare, but this new one is very similar to the VCI disc, with the exception of a brief historical introduction to the cartoons. Both the VCI disc and the Inkwell disc include ten cartoons, and six of them are the same. They appear to have been mastered from the same negatives with sound effects and canned music; they look roughly the same, though the VCI masters appear to be brighter. The four "new" cartoons on the Inkwell edition are: Alice Gets Stage Struck (1925), Alice Wins the Derby (1925), Alice the Toreador (1925) and Alice on the Farm (1925). The other six are: Alice the Whaler (1927), Alice's Egg Plant (1925), Alice in the Jungle (1925), Alice's Orphan (1926), Alice Solves the Puzzle (1925) and Alice Rattled by Rats (1925). The disc also comes with a poster gallery, viewable on the disc itself and also as a DVD-Rom extra. If you're a purist, both discs are recommended together.

Starring: Virginia Davis, Margie Gay, Lois Hardwick, Anne Shirley
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Walt Disney
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92 minutes
Date: March 27, 2007

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