A Matter of Life and Disney: “Can You Hear Us, Alice?”

August 3, 2014

By Kelvin Cedeño

“Where is the path to Wonderland?” This lyric, sung by the Jud Conlon chorus during the title song to Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, carries more weight for me than writer Bob Hilliard probably intended. It symbolized a question that has acted as an overarching theme in the crazy, still-in-progress saga otherwise known as my life. As with many unexplainable occurrences in that saga, I haven’t noticed it hovering over me until I look back at my roots, from where I came. Funny how much clarity retrospection lends.

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Regarding the literal interpretation, I can easily pinpoint what that lyric means to me.  As a child, I had quite the imagination (let’s be frank, I still do).  I visited nearly every fantasy world depicted on film through the diligence of my overactive imagination.  Sometimes, I simply needed to envision myself acting alongside the characters.  I distinctly remember my father entering my room, catching my precocious three-year-old self reciting Michael’s lines from Peter Pan out loud in tandem with the VHS playing.  I still don’t know if his first thought pointed towards amusement or horror.  Other times, I took the transportation to a different level, such as when I tried to locate Narnia inside my closet – a most disappointing excursion that got me a raised eyebrow from my sister.


Among these unfruitful expeditions was an attempt to jump down the rabbit hole, with the intent to end up in the madcap world of Wonderland.  Thankfully, my yard contained neither rabbits nor their transportative holes.  The hole in question actually went down a mere foot deep in our front yard, once home to a sprinkler system, I believe.  As you can well imagine, that adventure ended before it even began.  Considering I was the size of Chunk from The Goonies, I think the adventure still would’ve shut down prematurely even if a genuine portal resided in that abandoned sprinkler system.  Despite all that, it marked only the beginning of my search for Wonderland.


As illustrated earlier, I was an imaginative child; the unfortunate side effect resulting in imaginative children growing up as histrionic teenagers.  I was one of them.  My penchant for theatricality alienated me from others, resulting in getting bullied throughout middle school (cue the violins – see, theatricality).  During this time, I found my escape from all the teasing and tormenting.  Disney re-released Alice in Wonderland to VHS to close off the Masterpiece Collection line-up.  I hadn’t seen the film in years due to my original copy getting lost during a bedroom renovation.  As fate would have it, I also just read the original Lewis Carroll novel and its sequel during the summer for the first time, thus falling in love with both.  It felt strange to watch the film on that golden afternoon.  The film played out just as I remembered it, yet simultaneously felt entirely new to me.  Something clicked with me that day, something difficult to truly explain.  I found Wonderland.


Here lay a world that seemed so much more appealing to me than the drudgery of my Lord of the Flies-esque environment.  As I sit here typing that, I realize the irony of this statement.  Escaping to a world where everyone’s personalities showcase rudeness at best or psychopathy at worst doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade.  I suppose I preferred dealing with all that through the witty and humorous filter of Wonderland.  Getting to change sizes while seeing talking animals in Victorian clothing also marked itself as a rather neat perk.  Alice may have been utterly fed up with all of it, but it was a breath of fresh air for me.


The summer I re-discovered Alice in Wonderland also happened to be the summer I got internet service at home for the first time (I can still hear the shrill-but-melodious tones of the dial-up modem to this day).  Despite being a teenage boy with his own computer and web service, what did I search for?   If you guessed Alice in Wonderland, you’re correct.  Via that and my love for Disney in general, I discovered a most shocking thing: others existed like me.  All things considered, some may find clone-me’s an alarming concept, but I found it to be a relief.  I had finally discovered other oddballs with whom I could share my appreciations without being met with stares or accused of being a bundle of sticks.  A new, more inviting Wonderland opened its gates to me.

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Through the years, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland became a recurring gateway for me into various ventures.  It was the first Disney DVD I purchased.  So enamored I became with the format that I wrote reviews for DVDizzy.com for years, with Alice standing proud as my first review for that site.  Thanks to the fickle nature of home media, DVD eventually gave way to Blu-ray, as my reviews reflected the change in format.  When Alice in Wonderland made its high-definition debut, I came full circle at DVDizzy, and chose to retire after writing its review, making for a nice bookend from where I started.

The Wonderland throughline continued through experiences such as my first attendance to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (I arrived as the Mad Hatter), my first D23 event (“Magic and Merriment,” in which I met Alice voice actress Kathryn Beaumont), and my first D23 Expo (when Disney Legends posthumously inducted voice actor Ed Wynn among their prestigious recipients).  All of these experiences were, to borrow an all-too-convenient adjective, wonderful.  One element, however, elevated each experience beyond their well-placed awe and wonder: people.


As Fanny Brice sang through Bob Merrill’s lyrics and Barbra Streisand’s voice, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”  Everything I went through because of Alice transformed into something more because of the people with whom I collided on these madcap adventures.  Every person I’d run into seemed barking mad in one way or another.  Whether I shared the madness with them or I merely observed as an outsider ala Alice herself, these people truly made the experiences memorable.


It frightens me to think of where I’d be if even one of those elements were out of place.  I co-founded this website with Albert Gutierrez and Pedro Hernandez because I knew them from DVDizzy.  I wrote for DVDizzy because I knew its owner, Luke Bonanno, from another Disney forum.  I visited that Disney forum partially because I re-discovered Alice on VHS, and I bought that VHS because I just read the books.  I read the books because of my fond memories of the 1985 Columbia miniseries and, of course, the Disney animated film.


All my life I was looking for Wonderland without even realizing it, and like Dorothy Gale in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, I didn’t have to look any further than my own backyard (or, I suppose, front yard given where that hole was, yay for full circles once more!).  I always wanted to escape to a world filled with nonsense, but I think we can all agree that life itself already shuffles by nonsensically, as do the people in it.  We’re thrust into it via fate, changing us ever more.  Taking Lewis Carroll’s advice, I try to believe in six impossible things before breakfast, one of them always being Wonderland.  So, where is the path to Wonderland?  We’re on it right now.


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