The Disney Films That Never Were: 1930s & 40s Live Action ALICE IN WONDERLAND - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Disney Films That Never Were: 1930s & 40s Live Action ALICE IN WONDERLAND

In which we chart the many Disney versions of Alice In Wonderland that failed to make it to the big screen.

With 70 years of beloved animated features behind them, it's perhaps no surprise that for every film that saw the light of day there are others that were abandoned at various stages of development, never destined to become a Disney Classic. In the first of a new feature, we look back on the full length feature films planned by Walt Disney and his animators over the years, and the reasons why they never saw the light of day. Starting with Alice In Wonderland...

Ah, you may say, but Disney did release Alice In Wonderland in 1951, which is of course true. But originally Walt had planned an animated mixed with live-action film based on Lewis Carroll's Alice books, and it was his intention for it to be Walt Disney Productions first big-screen feature length movie. It's origins begin a decade earlier in 1923, when Walt Disney was a 21-year-old aspiring filmmaker working at the Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City.

During his time working there Walt made the unsuccessful short cartoon series by the name of Newman Laugh-O-Grams, the last of these was called Alice's Wonderland. The 12 minute short featured a live-action girl (Virginia Davis) interacting with an animated world...

After the Laugh-O-Gram Studio went bankrupt in July 1923, and the film was never released to the general public, Disney left for Hollywood and used the film to show to potential distributors. He then partnered with his older brother Roy O. Disney and re-hired some of his old Kansas City co-workers to form the Disney Brothers Studios, which in 1936 was re-branded Walt Disney Productions.

In 1933, after several years of producing very successful short features (including introducing the world to Mickey Mouse) Walt planned his first full length feature, and he returned to the world of Alice In Wonderland for inspiration. Development began on what would've been a feature-length animated-and-live-action version of Alice starring Mary Pickford.

Eighteen years prior to the all-animated feature film version, Alice in Wonderland would have been Disney's first feature-length film production. Pickford went through a Technicolor screen test as Alice but shortly after this Walt discovered that Paramount had beaten him to it and produced its own live-action star-studded film adaptation of Alice...

... so the project was canceled in favor of Walt's next idea, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

However, Disney did not completely abandon the idea of adapting Alice, and in 1936 he made the Mickey Mouse cartoon Thru the Mirror...

We're not done with the story yet though, as in 1938, after the enormous success of Snow White, Walt Disney bought the film rights of Alice in Wonderland with Sir John Tenniel's illustrations, and officially registered the title with the Motion Picture Association of America.

With multiple feature-length animated adventures in various stages of production, all vying to be the next Disney Animated Classic, Walt hired storyboard artist Al Perkins and art director David S. Hall to develop a story and concept art Alice In Wonderland. The following year, Perkins & Hall completed their story reel...

Seeing the proposed artwork screening, Disney was not pleased; he felt that Hall's drawings resembled Tenniel's drawings too closely, making them too difficult to animate. Walt was also concerned that the overall tone of Perkins' script was too grotesque and dark - not Disney-esque at all. Realizing the amount of work needed for Alice in Wonderland, and with the economic devastation of World War II and the production demands of Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, Disney, once again, shelved production on Alice in Wonderland.

But we're not done yet! Because shortly after the end of World War II, Disney revived Alice in Wonderland and, in what may be considered a rather bizarre move, hired British author Aldous Huxley to re-write the script.

Huxley wrote almost 50 books, his most famous likely being 1932's dystopian Brave New World. He was a humanist and pacifist, and took interest in philosophical mysticism and universalism, addressing these subjects in many of his works. His novel The Doors of Perception interpreted his own psychedelic experience with mescaline. And here he was devising a story for Walt Disney Productions.

In Huxley's somewhat meta script, Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell (Carroll's original inspiration for Alice) were misunderstood and persecuted following the book's publication. The story featured a fictional version of renowned English stage actress Ellen Terry who was sympathetic to both Carroll and Liddell, and it also included Queen Victoria who served as the deus ex machina, validating Carroll due to her appreciation for the book.

Background artist Mary Blair submitted some concept drawings for Huxley's take on Alice in Wonderland. Blair's paintings moved away from Tenniel's detailed illustrations by taking a modernist stance, using bold and unreal colors.

Yes, it's all as weird as it sounds. And although Walt Disney was considering child actress Margaret O'Brien for the title role (above) he also was not happy with Huxley's version - no surprise there! Walt did, however, like Blair's designs, and so had the script re-written to focus on comedy, music, and the whimsical side of Carroll's books.

By the end of 1945 Huxley's version was scrapped entirely, and a new take on Alice In Wonderland was planned by Disney. Walt looked to cast Ginger Rogers to star in this Alice live-action-mixed-with-animation adaptation. Lisa Davis (who later voiced Anita Radcliffe in One Hundred and One Dalmatians) and Luana Patten were also considered for the role of Alice.

However, Disney began to realise that the best way he could do justice to Lewis Carroll's books was by making an all-animated feature, and so in 1946 work began on Alice in Wonderland. With the film tentatively scheduled for release in 1950, animation crews on Alice and Cinderella effectively competed against each other to see which would finish first.

By early 1948, Cinderella had progressed further and was prioritised, but on July 26th 1951 Disney's classic animated tale of Alice In Wonderland finally premiered on the big screen, almost 20 years after Walt had originally hoped.

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