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Lou Bunin: Alice In Wonderland and Other Strange Tales

Produced in Paris in 1948, Bunin's Alice combined a live actor (Alice) with stop-motion animation. Disney tried numerous times to block this production, but both the Disney version and Bunin's were released in 1951. Unfortunately, Disney had the power, and he used his leverage to prevent Bunin's version from being widely distributed in theaters at the time. Bunin's version never faded away though - it has been restored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and has a "cult" following around the world.

Lou had a fascinating life - he studied art in Paris in the early 1920's; mural-making in Mexico with Diego Rivera in the late '20s; worked in Hollywood at MGM on the Ziegfeld Follies in the 1930's; lived in post-war France in the 1940's - where he made Alice in Wonderland; was blacklisted in the 1950's, and re-focused on painting and sculpture from the 1960's on.

In this blog, you will find rare photographs and other interesting bits of information from the family archives.

Check www.profilesinhistory.com for information on the auction of Bunin's puppets and artwork from this film (June 10-12, 2010).

Clips from Lou's films are available at: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=lou+bunin&aq=f

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Disney Problem

Lou began working on Alice in 1946, just after the end of World War II. The way he told it, French francs were “frozen” after the war, and couldn’t be exported. They also were terribly inflated, and worth less every day. One way to get money out of the country was to invest in an American film, which could be produced in France and then shipped to America. Lou was working at MGM on a stop-motion puppet prologue to Ziegfield Follies (more on that another day) when he was approached by a French film writer, M. Aisner. The plan was to make a film of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland in both French and English, using a live actress for Alice and stop-motion puppets for all the other characters. Lou loved the idea, and began collaborating with his Hollywood colleagues right away. He hired Art Babbitt, a former Disney animator, to design the motions of the puppets. He also had Bernyce Polifka and Gene Flury, a husband-and-wife design team from the Warner Brother’s cartoon studio, design the stylized sets and characters (these original sketches, drawings, paintings and collages will be part of the Profiles In History auction on June 10-12, 2010).

Unfortunately for Lou, Walt Disney also had plans to do an animated Alice. When he got wind of Lou’s plans, Disney promptly took Lou to court, claiming that he had the rights to the story and Lou should not be allowed to proceed. Of course Alice was in public domain, and the case was thrown out of court. This did not please Disney, who was notoriously ruthless when he didn’t get his way. Disney controlled Technicolor, the only good color film process around, and would not permit Lou’s production to use it. Lou was forced to use an inferior quality film process, Ansco, which was a technical disaster – the color was never crisp, and it varied from reel to reel – sometimes Alice would look tinged with red, sometimes blue. Worse, Disney used his influence to prevent theaters from showing the film on its release in 1951 (the same year as Disney’s version).

And yes, in case you are wondering, the venerable Walt Disney was always considered the “bad guy” in my house.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Amy
    I'm Art Babbitt's biographer, and I've linked your site my latest blgo post, which includes Babbitt's drawings for Lou's ALICE film.
    Please check it out!
    www.babbittblog.com
    -Jake

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi I've found an original 8mm of Lou bunins alice in wonderland is anyone interested?

    ReplyDelete