When Aldous Huxley Wrote a Script for Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

alice hux

Many film­mak­ers have tried to adapt Lewis Car­rol­l’s Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land, but none, in the esti­ma­tion of most enthu­si­asts of either Alice or ani­ma­tion, have ful­ly suc­ceed­ed. Maybe the episod­ic nature of the book gives them trou­ble, maybe the humor and unex­pect­ed log­ic of its much-cel­e­brat­ed “non­sense” don’t real­ly trans­late from the print­ed word to the spo­ken, or maybe Car­roll knew how to han­dle the bound­ary between the real and the unre­al in a way no oth­er cre­ator can imi­tate. Nobody knows how many Alice adap­ta­tions have, con­se­quent­ly, implod­ed before even begin­ning. But when Walt Dis­ney, not a man of small ambi­tions, set about to bring Car­rol­l’s world to the sil­ver screen, he pressed on until it became 1951’s Alice in Won­der­land — about 20 years after the idea came to him in the first place.

“No sto­ry in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture has intrigued me more than Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Won­der­land,” Dis­ney told the Amer­i­can Week­ly in 1946. “It fas­ci­nat­ed me the first time I read it as a school­boy and as soon as I pos­si­bly could after I start­ed mak­ing ani­mat­ed car­toons, I acquired the film rights to it.” The ani­ma­tor found spe­cial per­son­al res­o­nance in the fact that “peo­ple in his peri­od had no time to waste on triv­i­al­i­ty, yet Car­roll with his non­sense and fan­ta­sy fur­nished a bal­ance between seri­ous­ness and enjoy­ment which every­body need­ed then and still needs today.”

Oth­ers attempt­ed to bring Car­rol­l’s non­sense and fan­ta­sy up to date on film in 1903, 1910, and 1915, and Dis­ney him­self had begun plan­ning an abort­ed Alice movie with silent-era icon Mary Pick­ford in the ear­ly 1930s, but by the end of the Sec­ond World War, a defin­i­tive Dis­ney adap­ta­tion had yet to appear. Enter, in the fall of 1945, Aldous Hux­ley: author of Brave New World, scriptwriter on pre­vi­ous film projects like a life of Marie Curie as well as adap­ta­tions of Pride and Prej­u­dice and Jane Eyre, habitué of the bor­der­lands between real­i­ty and fan­ta­sy, and, in Dis­ney’s words, “Alice in Won­der­land fiend.” Dis­ney need­ed such a fiend, hav­ing start­ed to fear that his desired mod­ern­iza­tion of the mate­r­i­al might upset the Car­roll faith­ful.

Hux­ley’s script, a com­bi­na­tion of live action and ani­ma­tion, deals with the friend­ship between the Oxford don Charles Dodg­son (known, of course, by the pen name Lewis Car­roll), held back from attain­ing his dreamed-of life as a librar­i­an by the uni­ver­si­ty’s stern vice chan­cel­lor, and Alice (based upon Alice Lid­dell, the real-life inspi­ra­tion for Car­rol­l’s fic­tion­al Alice), held back from all things imprac­ti­cal by her even stern­er gov­erness. Though Hux­ley enjoyed doing the work, Dis­ney found it “too lit­er­ary,” and noth­ing of it made it into the 1951 movie. Even then, the final prod­uct dis­pleased the exact­ing ani­ma­tion vision­ary, as it still does quite a few Dis­ney fans.

While the full text of Hux­ley’s screen­play has­n’t sur­vived, and much of what Hux­ley wrote to pro­duce it burnt up in a 1961 house fire, you can read a thor­ough syn­op­sis of it and more of the back­sto­ry on the project at Mouse­plan­et. For even greater detail, see also “Hux­ley’s ‘Deep Jam’ and the Adap­ta­tion of Alice in Won­der­land,” an essay by David Leon Hig­don and Phill Lerhman in the Hux­ley vol­ume of Harold Bloom’s Mod­ern Crit­i­cal Views series.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See The Orig­i­nal Alice In Won­der­land Man­u­script, Hand­writ­ten & Illus­trat­ed By Lewis Car­roll (1864)

See Sal­vador Dali’s Illus­tra­tions for the 1969 Edi­tion of Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land

Alice in Won­der­land: The Orig­i­nal 1903 Film Adap­ta­tion

Curi­ous Alice — The 1971 Anti-Drug Movie Based on Alice in Won­der­land That Made Drugs Look Like Fun

Lewis Carroll’s Pho­tographs of Alice Lid­dell, the Inspi­ra­tion for Alice in Won­der­land

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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