This paper is a film analysis paper I wrote for a film class about Alice in Wonderland. I thought it would be fun to post this while I continue to work on the other posts. I do have a few that I have started but I tend to work on many things at once so it may be a little while.
Update: I do make an argument about the directional movement in this paper and have since found a counterexample. However, I believe the point still remains even with the two minor counterexamples I have found.
Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is a musical animated film from 1951. It was poorly received upon release, but it is now considered a classic animation and is known for being exceptionally bizarre. The story is about a girl who follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole and is consequently transported to another world where she has a strange adventure and meets a bunch of very unusual characters.
Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is one of the best western animated films because of the clever ways it uses editing and cinematographic effects to keep the viewer in tune to its constant musical flow. Films will often use their full space, and this film manages to maintain its flow while helping the viewer go along with its characters, and it is all done with an easily consumable continuity. Alice in Wonderland allows the viewer to pick up on the undertones of the narrative by cleverly using editing and cinematographic techniques that allow the viewer to not only follow the eccentric storyline more easily, but also to empathize with what the main character, Alice, is going through throughout the film.
For example, throughout the movie, Alice eats bites of a mushroom that make her either bigger or smaller. When Alice eats the mushroom and grows larger or smaller, the camera cuts to further away or closer up in order to follow her. This is a way that transitioning helps the viewer see the environment through a new perspective, much as Alice would, even when the setting is basically the same. It shows things in a way that the viewer could not have imagined and allows them to see things that were not visible before. This seemingly simple transition reveals new information and helps them see things the way that Alice does, and even though it’s technically the same setting, this reveals what could not have been known before, offering new insights for the viewer and allowing him to follow along with Alice’s adventure rather than just watching her turn big or small. At first the camera is close up to Alice in the shot while she is taking a bite. Then it quickly cuts to further away. This transitioning technique allows the viewer to feel anticipation, and since the trend of eating and growing or shrinking has been set up already, the viewer, like Alice, already knows that something will happen and is anxiously waiting to see what it will be, thus creating a connection between Alice and the viewer that might not otherwise be there.
Another example of this type of transitioning to create insight into Alice’s experience, is when it cuts to a very long shot to her above the trees just after she has finished growing. Now above the trees, the viewer sees a new perspective of the same forest area, and can see things that were not visible before, just like Alice can from her new larger form. One of the shots shows a very quick point of view shot from the bird on Alice’s head, with the perspective very disoriented and stretched out. Even though this shot seems to be from the bird’s perspective it also represents Alice’s view due to the very similar positioning. This disoriented shot again lets the viewer be on the same wavelength with Alice and the bird who have both been put very high in the sky against their will. This viewpoint allows the viewer to experience and understand how she and the bird are both feeling while adjusting to the new view.
The film also uses the movement of directions to clue to the viewer in on Alice’s emotions, as well as to have a better understanding for what is happening. When the direction of movement goes to the right it means that Alice is going deeper down the rabbit hole which often portrays confusion, sometimes fear, and often loss of hope. It uses the movement direction to the left to show that she is returning home or at least has hope to return home. It does this by establishing trends such as using the direction of the frames to represent hope. It also uses the constant spiral into the rabbit hole, to create a sense of hopelessness or being out of control. The use of these directions and transitions allows the viewer to pick up on and appreciate the subtle nuances of the film.
The first time that the film hints that directions are going to be important is when Alice first takes a bite of the mushroom. After talking with a caterpillar, Alice is told to that the two sides of the mushroom will make her grow taller or shrink her down. The well balanced shot first shows Alice’s full body, both the pieces of the mushroom, and both sides of the mushroom, and keeps the viewer from knowing which one of the two options Alice will choose. She turns her head left and then to the right again creating a sense of suspense as well as the viewer being able to feel her fright, excitement, and confusion. She chooses the right side of the mushroom and as she grows, she is also looking to the right, supporting that the direction right suggests that something is amiss. The scene starts in a sudden burst with the frame and stays in the same position until her head exits the frame. Then it cuts to above where her head is just entering a new shot, and as she continues to grow, each frame goes a little bit ahead of her until she catches up. This type of transitioning each time she grows creates a sense of further connection with the viewer because he may subconsciously pick up on the directional foreshadowing and be able to see that each time the frame goes to the right that something scary or unusual is about to happen.
Another way that Alice in Wonderland uses clever editing is that throughout the whole film if Alice is walking to the right the camera will reframe in order to follow her. The movements to the right symbolize her going “deeper into the rabbit hole,” where things are very much out of Alice’s control. The times that she goes left, up, or down all symbolize a break of this right directional flow. When she is going left, it symbolizes that she has hope of returning home or getting “out of the rabbit hole,” and back to a sense of normalcy.
For example, after Alice leaves the tea party, she walks to the left out of the situation. It appears that she is backtracking in order to get back and closer to home. However, after she runs into more “nonsense” she hasn’t seen before and still does not recognize her path, the direction changes back to right because she begins to lose hope again, and starts to feel that she is only going deeper into the rabbit hole instead of getting home. Another example of this is when Alice is walking and she sees the birds who are making signs that say “Don’t step on the Mome Raths (flowers).” She exclaims “The Mome Raths!” and they (The Mome Raths) jump up and run in order to form an arrow pointing down the path that goes to the left. Excited to see a path (unconsciously knowing that left is the “right” way) she is now again hopeful that she can find her way home. She begins walking down a pathway that is on the ground in front of her. She again moves left down the path symbolizing her revived hope of returning home. However, as she is walking down the path, a dog with a broom head is spotted coming from the opposite direction and he is erasing the path that Alice is following as he goes. In the shot that Alice spots the dog, she enters from the left, but is looking right indicating that something is once again amiss. The dog erases the path around her leaving a small square of path under her feet. The viewer at this point can feel her disappointment and in the next shot she is clearly very upset and begins walking right again showing once more that her hope is now gone. Though there are a times where she lacks hope and does walk left, as in the previous example, the next shot will “correct” itself by have her going back to the right. In another similar example, after she is done with the “nonsense,” she enters into the next shot over a log from the left. However, the correction happens when she steps on a duck that is shaped like a horn and in makes a loud noise sending her back to the right where she continues on in hopelessness. It is almost as if Alice is in a battle with the idea of getting dragged further and further into the rabbit hole which is represented by the direction of the frame, yet doesn’t know how to escape or change the direction for herself.
In one scene Alice meets flowers who mistake her for a weed. They then want to remove her from their presence so they push her to the right. In this sequence with the flowers, everything that the flowers do push her only to the right. She tries to resist a bit by turning back towards them and pointing angrily but the flowers push her back to the right. Here the audience can feel the frustration Alice is experiencing in finally feeling like she knows where to go, but is being prevented from it, continuing to reinforce the empathy the viewer has for her, as well as helping him gain further understanding about the directional intentions of the film. In the shot where Alice is being pushed by the flower’s leaf and the flower is saying “move along, move along” the camera moves to the right with Alice as she looks from the left to the right, again being wrought with confusion and frustration.
Even the way the film begins and ends uses the clues of direction to cleverly bring flow and keep the audience in tuned with the goings on of our character. At the start of the film Alice begins by wandering to the right, and when seeing the rabbit she chases him further to the right. This is setting up this direction as it shows her entering of the rabbit hole’s domain. The narrative of this film takes Alice deeper and deeper into Wonderland (the rabbit hole), and at most points she is heading in that direction. Since English reads left to right this makes it a natural connection for the film going forward to be left to right, making it feel all the more natural for the viewer, and him being able to follow along easily right from the beginning. The ending of the film has Alice glancing back to the right (into the rabbit hole), and then proceeding to go left towards her home. The way she glances back to the right, helps the viewer get an idea about how she feels about going home. Though she is walking toward home, she is perhaps torn about her decision to leave Wonderland and all its quirky characters, but she ultimately chooses home, walking in the “right” direction…to the left.
The ways in which Alice in Wonderland uses editing to give the flowing effect and to helps the viewer stay in tuned with all the things that are happening to Alice, one can have a deeper understanding as to why the film is such a classic for children and adults alike. There is so much more to the film than one would have ever imagined, and it seems to have its own individual meanings that causes the movie to come to life, and for every viewer to be able to connect with each scene on a deeper level without understanding why. It does this by establishing trends such as using the direction of the frames (left and right) to represent hope. It also uses the constant spiral into the rabbit hole, and transitions which help the viewer see the environment through a new perspective, even when the setting is the same, such as when Alice grows and shrinks throughout the story. It guides the audience through what could have been a wildly confusing story, and keeps the viewers completely in tuned with the main character, Alice. Overall, the skillful use of directions, transitions, and precise editing and cinematographic techniques allows the viewer to pick up on, enjoy, and fully appreciate the subtle nuances of this wonderful film.
Sequence analysis part.
wHoM, wHat, wHy?
This sequence in my opinion is an extremely good example of this films use of editing to immerse the viewer into what is actually happening. It takes care to move the camera when needed and keep the action exactly where it needs to be in order to make the viewer empathize with Alice. It also marries the audio and the visuals with the smoke on screen which literally represents the dialogue. In addition to its technical aspects, it does a really good job of capturing the nature of the film. This scene manages to best display Alice who represents the Layman and the caterpillar who represents an elitist. The caterpillar has exaggerated pronunciations that are ultimately mundane and he takes offense to the comment about his height without the understanding that Alice is not complaining about the height of three inches in general but she is upset about her problem. In her specific subjective situation three inches is short.
Establishing shot. Has Alice clime up onto the mushroom next to the one the caterpillar is on. She rests her arms on the higher mushroom and looks up at the caterpillar. This sets up so the camera can cut to a close up and you know where that shot is in relation to the caterpillar.
Caterpillar is singing just vowels.
Medium Close up
Switches position to show Alice’s face when before it was showing her back as she rested her arms on the mushroom. Using Alice’s direction to give a sense of where she is. Alice is looking up towards the caterpillar.
Caterpillar still singing.
Medium Close up
Eye line match with where Alice was looking. Shows the caterpillar breathing out last vowel. Before the caterpillar is about to take another puff of smoke in, he opens eyes and looks down in Alice’s direction.
Finishes song. Alarmed sound once caterpillar notices Alice.
Medium Long Shot to medium close up
The frame dollies in and pans to the right. Has caterpillar moving towards Alice to confront her. She shows up on frame and has already gotten up from her comfortable position when she comes into the frame. Alice pulls back very slightly.
Caterpillar with emphasis on his pronunciations asks “Who are you?”
Medium close up
Alice pushes back and is closing one eye when the smoke is coming at her.
Alice is confused about his question and is rambling in reply.
Medium close ups
The next few shots are dialogue with reversal shots. One of the interesting things about the dialogue is that the smoke that is blown out of the caterpillar’s mouth is in the shape of letters that represent the dialogue. This gives a harmony between the sound and visuals. Since the dialogue is towards Alice, just like the direction the smoke is being blown, it emphasizes it.
Dialogue where caterpillar introduces his modification to a old saying that by his standards Alice says incorrectly.
The caterpillar blows smoke out of his mouth. “O”, “R”, and “U” are the letters the smoke is shaped as.
The caterpillar yells at Alice “Who are you?” asking for her credibility to criticize his modification to a saying.
Medium long shot
Alice is knocked off of the mushroom. She coughs and flies off. The camera pans quickly to the right to keep Alice centered. She storms off into the leaves angrily and the camera pans right. She leaves through the leaves.
Alice coughs as she falls off mushroom. Tense music to show the frustration of the situation.
Medium long shot
The caterpillar climbs up the branch behind him to get back Alice’s attention. He waves his arms while he is yelling.
Caterpillar says “Come back!”
Alice peaks her head back though the leaves.
Very long shot
Serves as an establishing shot. Very long shot of caterpillar reveals that Alice has actually traveled a bigger distance than the time could have aloud so suggests a bit of time passed before he actually got her attention.
Caterpillar says he has something important to tell Alice.
Alice goes back in the caterpillar’s direction to the left. She is hopeful that the caterpillar has decided to help her with her “problem” of getting back home.
Music goes from more tense to more of a hopeful positive one.
Medium Long Shot
Dissolves to the next shot of Alice climbing over logs towards the left.
Medium long shot
Dissolves to the next shot of Alice going through more leafs.
Medium Long Shot
Alice arrives back to where she was before with the caterpillar and she crosses her arms.
Alice asks “Well?”
Medium Long Shot
Caterpillar is spitting more smoke into the air.
He says sarcastically “Keep your temper.”
Medium Long shot
Alice puts her hands on her hips and walks to the left still hopeful.
She asks “Is that all?”
Medium close up
More reverse shots as they talk a bit more and Alice explains her “problem.”
Dialogue back and forth.
Alice angers the caterpillar by saying that she wants to no longer be three inches high. He is three inches tall and is offended by this. He turns red and smokes angrily.
Alice stands up and moves forward. The camera pans to follow her. She yells and the camera pans quickly giving more force to her yelling.
Tense music. Alice shouting.
Very long shot
After this the caterpillar turns into a butterfly and flies away to the left again showing hope as he tells her about the mushroom.
The caterpillar explains the mushrooms respective sides will make her grow and shrink.