Since Easter is coming I thought I’d write a post focusing on a Disney bunny, in particular my favorite Disney bunny, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. You may remember that I featured some David Hall concept art for Alice in Wonderland in a previous post. The whimsical concept art of Alice and the White Rabbit I’m featuring today obviously goes in a very different direction. That is because it was painted by Mary Blair during one of the most imaginative and fruitful periods in her career. In my opinion, Alice in Wonderland captures the creative spirit of Mary Blair’s concept art better than any other film did during Disney’s Silver Era.
If you’ve been reading my blog you already know about how Mary Blair came to find her unique modernist style By the 1950s, Mary Blair was the top concept artist at Walt Disney Animation, and Walt Disney’s personal favorite artist. Walt became very frustrated with his animators around the time Cinderella was reaching completion. He felt they were failing to realize the unique qualities of Blair’s artwork on the screen and were instead coming up with a more generic looking product. The animators, on the other hand, complained that her concept art was too flat and unrealistic to easily replicate in animation, especially for a relatively human and realistic story like Cinderella. Luckily their next film, the whimsical and nonsensical Lewis Carroll story Alice in Wonderland left them more opportunities to come closer to Blair’s art. The original idea for the film was to make it darker and closer to the traditionally Victorian illustrations of John Tennial, but Walt ordered them to follow Mary Blair’s style, which ultimatly helped to move the film in a more fun, comical, and musical direction
Although the likeness isn’t exact, I think Alice in Wonderland did a better job at capturing Mary Blair’s style than any other Disney film. Compare her depiction of the White Rabbit to the character in the final film and you’ll not find that many differences. The White Rabbit in the final film is more dimensional, a bit more round and fluffy, but he retains many of the elements from Blair’s concept art. He retains his spectacles, his wide whimsical ruff, and the modernist red and white contrasting colour scheme of his clothes. Alice too retains many of the elements contained in this design. Though the final character is older and more human looking, the exaggerated silhouette of her dress with its bell-like skirt, large puffed sleeves, triangular apron, and overly cinched waist remained. The card-soldiers in the final film look almost exactly as Mary Blair drew them here, because as cards they were allowed to look flat and unusual. If you examine Mary Blair’s concept art and compare it to the final film you’ll find many of her imaginative ideas were incorporated. Shapes, colour schemes, and even camera angels were lifted directly from her paintings. This is especially true of many of the backgrounds in the film, which look almost like they were painted by Blair herself. In my opinion, Disney’s Wonderland could just as easily be called Mary Blair land.
Now you know a little bit more about why the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland looks and dresses the way he does. Hope you enjoyed and have a very happy Easter if you celebrate it.