Suspended Animation #288
Previously I talked about The Disney Alice In Wonderland Never Made and promised that I would share the story about the Huxley version.In the fall of 1945, Walt Disney brought in writer Aldous Huxley to work on the live action/animation script for what was to become Alice and the Mysterious Mr. Carroll. Huxley was a well-known and prolific English writer probably best remembered for his novel Brave New World.
The Disney Studio agreed to pay Huxley $7,500 to write the treatment for the film. They paid him $2,500 on October 18, 1945 with the balance to be paid on the delivery of the final treatment no later than January 15, 1946.
Huxley delivered his fourteen page treatment on November 23, 1945. The Disney Studio also took out an option for Huxley to do the final screenplay for $15,000 that would have included “all additions, changes and revisions.” The first draft of the script was delivered December 5, 1945.
Walt Disney had been seriously thinking of diversifying into live-action since World War II had shown him how vulnerable his business was. His solution was a film like Song of the South (1946) that featured a live action framework showcasing three animated segments. He also considered it for the film Treasure Island (1950) where pirate Long John Silver would tell Jim Hawkins three animated tales of Reynard the Fox to help him overcome challenges.
Here is a brief paraphrasing of Huxley’s synopsis for Alice and the Mysterious Mr. Carroll from November 1945.
The synopsis begins with a letter stating that the Queen wants to meet the author of Alice in Wonderland. She has been told he is an Oxford don and that she wishes the vice chancellor of the University, Langham, to discover his identity.Langham has other concerns, including the Reverend Charles Dodgson lobbying to become the new librarian. Dodgson loves books and wants to be relieved of his duties lecturing since he stutters badly when nervous. (In real life, the Dodo in Wonderland was named after Dodgson who sometimes because of his stutter would introduce himself as “Do-Do-Dodgson”.)
Langham is not inclined to endorse Dodgson for the new job because he feels it is inappropriate for the good reverend to be interested in the theater and in photography. Langham’s assistant, Grove, who knows Dodgson quite well and just considers him a little eccentric tries to plead Dodgson’s case to no avail.
Grove is the weak-willed guardian of a little girl named Alice, whose parents are temporarily off in India. Grove has hired Miss Beale to take care of Alice. Miss Beale is a no-nonsense person who is very strict and dislikes Dodgson because he fills Alice’s mind with nonsense.
Dodgson has invited Alice to join him for a theatrical performance of Romeo and Juliet featuring one of his former students now grown up into an attractive and talented young actress, Ellen Terry. Miss Beale is outraged and orders Alice to write a letter to Dodgson informing him she can not attend because of her “religious principles”.
Mrs. Beale discovers that Alice has not posted the letter to Dodgson but hidden it so she could sneak out and attend the theater with him. Enraged, Beale locks Alice in the garden house.
Alice is terrified at being locked in the garden house and starts to imagine that a hanging rope is the caterpillar from the book and that a stuffed tiger’s head is the Cheshire Cat. Eventually, by remembering that in Wonderland there “is a garden at the bottom of every rabbit hole,” she finds a small shuttered window and is able to escape.
Alice eventually finds her way to the theater and rushes tearfully to Ellen Terry and the surrounding performers who are taking a break on stage. She incoherently blurts out her tale. Terry sends for Dodgson and is indignant about the way Alice has been treated.
Ellen Terry eventually joined by the other actors, recounts the story of the Red Queen’s croquet game and the film transitions into animation. Dodgson arrives and joins in on the storytelling that transforms into another animated segment.
At the point in the animated story where the Red Queen yells “Off With Her Head!” it returns to live-action and the appearance of Miss Beale followed by Grove and two policemen. Grove is persuaded to dismiss the policemen and Terry eloquently convinces Beale of the need to be kinder to Alice.During the discussion, Alice blurts out that Dodgson is really Lewis Carroll.
A disgusted and frustrated Grove proclaims that this is the final straw why Dodgson is unfit for the job of librarian and leaves to confront Langham with the news.
Langham has no time for Grove, because he has been informed that the Queen is arriving that very afternoon to meet the author of Alice in Wonderland and he fears what her reaction will be for his inability to find the author. Grove announces he can produce the author and returns to the theater.
Langham and the other dignitaries are paying their respects to the Queen and, just as Langham is about to admit he does not know who Carroll is, Grove arrives and shoves Dodgson forward. Alice is terrified the Queen will cut off his head, but the Queen is quite pleased. When she leaves, Dodgson finds himself lionized by those who had previously looked at him askance.
As all the new found flatterers cluster around Dodgson they all appear in Alice’s eyes to transform into the animated residents of Wonderland with only Dodgson himself remaining human. A brief epilogue shows a gothic doorway with the word “Librarian” painted on the door and Dodgson seated comfortably at a table, writing, and surrounded by walls of books.
There was a story meeting on December 7th, 1945 with Walt and Huxley as well as Dick Huemer, Joe Grant, D. Koch, Cap Palmer, Bill Cottrell, and Ham Luske.Huxley had made some significant changes in the screenplay. For instance, the transition into Wonderland was shifted from the theater to Dodgson’s studio where Alice is looking through proofs of the book for Alice in Wonderland. The existing copy of the screenplay has pencil notations that Alice enters Wonderland in dissolves as Dodgson begins to tell her the story. With only the first thirty-one pages remaining from the screenplay, regrettably whatever other changes were made may never be known.
For the final scene, Walt suggested, “Maybe in the last scene we see Mr. Carroll with all these little characters around him and all of a sudden he turns into the little character we want him to be. We can just make a tag ending. Everybody’s happy. Everybody can be happy while this is happening. It’s a natural place to bring everybody together.”
It has been stated that Walt rejected Huxley’s script because he felt it was too “literary” and he could only understand every third word. Reading Walt’s comments in the story meeting notes it is more likely that he just felt it didn’t capture what he wanted. However, Walt was actively excited about shaping the story into something workable.
Unfortunately, a massive fire in 1961 destroyed more than four thousand of Huxley’s annotated books and documents, including his involvement on the Alice project. Fortunately, the Disney Archives does have some of the story meeting notes, some memorandums, the fourteen page treatment and thirty-one pages of the script written by Huxley. When the Disney animated feature was released in 1951, it contained no elements from Huxley’s work.