Surprising Facts About ‘Alice In Wonderland’

For many of us, Alice in Wonderland is a beloved cartoon from our childhood. However, the 1951 Disney adaptation was not always so popular. It spurred from a tale written by Lewis Carroll almost a century beforehand. Walt Disney grew up admiring the story and even produced a silent film series about Alice in the ’20s. The original story was based on a real little girl and was written per her request. Film adaptations of the book and its series, Through the Looking Glass, have been made since the turn of the 20th century. Read on to discover the history of Alice in Wonderland.

There Is A Syndrome Named After The Story

Cartoon Alice leans down to a talking doorknob
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

According to Neurology, Alice in Wonderland syndrome, abbreviated AWS, is when a person perceives a change in the size of their body that does not exist. Someone may hallucinate that their arm has become enlarged, for example.

There is also an Alice in Wonderland-like syndrome (AWLS), where people are unable to correctly perceive the size of objects around them. Both syndromes are very uncommon. However, researchers in a 2014 study were unable to identify the cause of the disease in more than half of the patients studied.

The Author Was Inspired By His Own Disorder

Lewis Carroll poses in a leather chair for a self portrait
SSPL/Getty Images
SSPL/Getty Images

Authors are often inspired by their own life experiences, and the writer of Alice in Wonderland was no exception. According to Whonamedit? Lewis Carroll suffered from severe migraines, which are associated with the symptoms of AWS and AWLS.

Distorted space, time, and body image, in addition to delirium, trancelike states, and more are all related to the disorder that not only was named after Alice in Wonderland, but may have inspired the story. Psychiatrist John Todd coined the disorder in 1955, which is also known as Todd’s syndrome.

There’s A Smaller Version For Toddlers

A sketch from the original book shows Alice cramped in a tiny room
The Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Getty Images

The original name of the story was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which hit shelves in 1865. Amongst its popularity, the title became referred to by its simpler title Alice in Wonderland. Both titles refer to the same book, but the story was retold in a different book years later.

In 1890, Carroll elected to write a shorter, picture book version for kids under the age of five. This was named The Nursery “Alice.” Limited to one-syllable words, Carroll simplified the way in which the story was told. It also enlarged and colored the pictures from the original book.

Mock Turtle Soup Is A Real Thing

A sketch from the original story shows Alice looking at mock turtle, a turtle and calf mix
The Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Getty Images

If you’ve read the book, you may recall the part where the Queen asks Alice if she’s seen the Mock Turtle. She goes on to explain that it’s the thing that Mock Turtle Soup is made of. Mock Turtles don’t actually exist, but the soup does. In fact, the soup is what inspired the character.

A dish popular during the Victorian Age, Mock Turtle soup was a cheaper rendition of green turtle soup, which was made from actual turtles. The mock version consisted of calf organs that mimicked the taste and texture of the actual turtle.

China Disagreed With Its Human-like Animals

A sketch shows Alice holding a cake that a lion smells while a unicorn watches
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

According to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! the Governor of the Hunan Province in China disapproved of talking animals because it puts animals and humans on an even level. The New Tork Times states that General Ho Chien wanted to prevent children from being taught that humans and animals share the same level of complexity.

It’s unlikely that China solely feared their children becoming vegetarians. The “disastrous” impact of seeing animals and humans on the same level probably had more to do with the child’s self-identity.

This Is Where The March Hare’s Name Came From

Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the March Hare sit around the table in a sketch from the original book
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

The character of the March Hare got its name from the saying “mad as a March hare.” The saying comes from the strange behavior of rabbits during mating season, which begins in March in Europe. One behavior these hares may exude is jumping vertically for no understood reason.

The phrase is mentioned in a 1528 poem by John Skelton, who was also the tutor of King Henry the VIII. Though the term was exclusive to Europeans, Lewis Carroll’s story helped popularize the phrase.

The Story Was Written For Alice Liddell

A young Alice Liddell poses for Lewis Carroll to take her photo
Lewis Carroll/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Lewis Carroll/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Alice Liddell was one of ten children born to the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford. The family met Lewis Carroll, whose actual name is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, while he was photographing the cathedral. He went on to be a close friend of the family.

Six years after meeting, Alice asked Charles to write a story to entertain her and her sisters while they sailed the Thames. Alice loved the story about the girl who falls into the rabbit hole so much, that she asked him to write it down for her. The original manuscript was published as Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.

The Story Was Also Influenced By Math

A sketch shows Alice trying to console a frustrated character in the book
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

According to BBC, Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, was a mathematics professor at Oxford. This may explain the complex geometric allusions throughout the story. Additionally, Alice desperately tries to solve puzzles throughout the story that seem to only confuse her.

For example, the Mad Hatter’s riddle and the Queen’s croquet game doesn’t make any sense and ultimately doesn’t offer Alice an answer. A world void of logic may have been a way to escape from the precision that consumes the mind of a mathematician.

Other Real People Were The Basis For Its Characters

Edith, Lorina, and Alice Liddell pose for a photo together
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

While Alice Liddell is the only one whose name appears the same in the book, two of her other sisters may have also influenced characters. The character Lory may have come from Lorina Liddell, while Eaglet may have been based on Edith Liddell.

Lorina, Edith, and Alice were the three sisters present when Lewis Carroll first conceived of the story. It is additionally speculated that the Dodo bird might be Lewis himself because he has a stutter. Meanwhile, some argue that the Queen was Queen Victoria, though she loved the story.

Disney’s Version Was Based On Two Alice Books

Tweedle Dee and Tweele Dum are drawn meeting Alice
Culture Club/Getty Images
Culture Club/Getty Images

In 1951, Walt Disney Productions came up with the cartoon Alice in Wonderland that many of us are most familiar with today. However, the movie wasn’t only based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, but also its sequel Through The Looking Glass.

One aspect of the movie that is from the book’s sequel is the Red Queen, who influenced the Queens of Hearts character that is present in both the first book and the Disney movie. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are also characters that only appear in Through The Looking-Glass.

The First Movie Adaptation Was In 1903!

An actress looks into the camera while being filmed for a silent movie
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

The first Alice in Wonderland film adaptation was a silent film made in 1903. Like the Disney version, this film was also based on both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. However, the cast consists of only Alice, Frog, White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, and various playing cards.

The film’s runtime was just twelve minutes long. The British Film Institute restored the original film, which cut it down to 9 and a half minutes, and released it in 2010. The film marked a stepping stone in special effects.

Alice Was A Big Deal To Walt Disney

Disney holds up photos of Alice while actress Kathryn Beaumont points to them
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Way before Disney produced the film we know today, he incorporated Alice in Wonderland into a silent short film series called Alice Comedies. The 1920s series consisted of 57 films that started four different actresses as Alice.

The series placed a live-action actress into a cartoon setting. This was the foundation for Disney’s later films, such as Mary Poppins, which marry animation and live-action to create a new kind of believability. Given that Disney was a fan of the story from his own childhood, it isn’t a surprise that he spent so much time adapting it.

Paramount Beat Disney To The Punch

An enlarged Alice looks at tiny live-action characters in the 1933 Alice in Wonderland
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

In the 1930s, before Disney made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, he considered doing a live-action, animation hybrid of Alice in Wonderland as a movie. The film went through several scripts before finally landing on the one that would become the 1951 classic.

However, the film Disney ultimately put together did not incorporate live-action at all and was strictly animated. The choice was made after Paramount Pictures came out with their 1933 Alice in Wonderland film, which was primarily live-action, but did incorporate animation during the Walrus and The Carpenter scene.

It Took Decades For The Production To Begin

The rabbit looks frantically at his clock
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

As mentioned previously, Disney had considered an Alice in Wonderland movie since the 1930s. So why did it take him until 1951 to put the movie out? One reason for the delay is that Paramount Studios had the rights to the story until 1947.

Regardless, Disney began recruiting members to brainstorm script and animation ideas back in 1938. However, he was dissatisfied with the results and postponed production again due to WWII. The story was revisited with a new staff in 1947, who made the story funnier, easier to animate, and full of more music.

The Particular Voice Of Alice

Walt Disney looks over her shoulder as a young Kathrym Beaumont signs her contract
Getty Images
Getty Images

Walt Disney auditioned more than 200 actresses for the voice of Alice. Ultimately, he chose the same young girl who would go on to play the voice of Wendy in Peter Pan: Kathryn Beaumont. He admired her for her role in On An Island With You and for her pleasant voice.

Kathryn has said that Walt believed her voice would appeal to both American and British audiences. She was only ten years old during production, so she had to have a teacher on set.

The Actors Actually Acted Out The Scenes

Kathryn sits in a small structure while acting as Alice
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

The actors hired to play the voices of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland would also get dressed up in costumes and act out their scenes on sound stages. The stages would even incorporate props and simplistic set designs.

The performances would be filmed and shown to the animators as a reference when the movie was being drawn. This was a common way to animate before the days of CGI and explains why the face of Alice and Wendy looks similar (they are both based on actress Kathryn Beaumont).

The 1951 Film Was A Huge Production

A still from the 1951 film shows Alice, the Queen, the Cheshire Cat, and napping cards
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Alice in Wonderland has the largest cast of animated characters in Disney films. It was also the first of his films to list the voice actors in the onscreen credits. Once production officially began in 1946, it took five years to wrap up due to the sound stage performances.

Only fourteen of the thirty songs written for the films made it to the final cut. Nevertheless, it still is the highest number of songs in a Disney feature. The movie consisted of more than 300,000 drawings and paintings, done by 750 artists.

The Disney Film Was Almost A Failure

Alice looks surprised while watching the Mad Hatter pour tea
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland had not one, not two, but FIVE directors that Walt hired. He assigned each to their own part of the story with the intent of creating competition amongst the directors. Evidently, Walt liked competition as he produced Cinderella at the same time and encouraged each production team to try to finish faster than the other.

The various directors are one reason that some critics believe the film was a box-office flop. Audiences felt that the film lacked consistency. The success of Cinderella prevented Disney from having to file from bankruptcy due to Alice in Wonderland’s failure.

Television Saved The Day

A 1950s family gathers around their tiny television set
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images
H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

Despite its negative feedback in the theaters, Alice in Wonderland still earned a nomination for best music at the Academy Awards. Additionally, the emergence of television turned this box office disaster into a national success.

Millions watched the film once Walt Disney aired it on the television program the Wonderful World of Color. A year later, Disney further popularized the film by adding the famous Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland, an attraction that now exists at every Disney Theme Park around the world.

How Alice In Wonderland Withstood The Test Of Time

An older Alice wanders through Wonderland in Tim Burton's 2010 film
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Though it’s initial release lacked in success, the film was re-released in the 1970s. The film became a hit thanks to the psychedelic culture of the hippie era. By 1974, it was the top requested Disney film rental.

More than half a century after her initial role as Alice, Kathryn Beaumont again voiced the character for the videogame Kingdom Hearts. The film’s exceptional number of characters and advances in color vibrancy may be what attracted Tim Burton to a modern re-telling. He re-envisioned the story in 2010 for Disney before moving on to other projects.