I can't tell you what I was doing when I was 10 years old with any certainty, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with swapping baseball cards with my friends. When Kathryn Beaumont was 10 years old, she signed on to portray the voice of Disney's animated adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Not only did she provide the voice for this iconic character, but Walt Disney himself was so impressed with her acting ability, Kathryn Beaumont became the live-action model for Alice as well, performing scenes for the animators to base their work on.
The original animated Alice in Wonderland is celebrating its 60th Annviersary this year and Disney is releasing this classic in a new Blu-ray edition, which hits the shelves on February 1. I had the chance to speak with Kathryn Beaumont over the phone about her experiences on Alice in Wonderland and here's what she had to say:
The people that I've interviewed before that have done these Disney movies, it seems that it's rare for someone to not only voice the character but also serve as the live-action model as well. Can you talk about your initial meetings with Walt and when you first heard about this Alice in Wonderland role?
Kathryn Beaumont I was in Los Angeles when he was apparently looking for an Alice voice that was pleasing to American ears and to British ears. I read for the part and then I was asked to read again and he found that my voice was suitable. All of a sudden, here I am doing this voice for a major character that I never really thought would actually happen. I kept thinking, 'Is this really happening to me?' I was very, very excited about the prospect. Working with Disney and getting to know him was such a pleasure. He was such an accessible person and the atmosphere was Disney was such a relaxed one. Everybody was involved in doing the best for the film. It wasn't like Disney was the leader and saying it was his vision and he wants everybody to help create his vision. Everybody had input and the decisions that were made were made with everybody together, like a consensus. I was seeing a lot of creativity going on when I sat in on some of the conferences and things like that.
Can you talk about how the process actually worked for you? Would you do the modeling first and then they would draw off of that and would you voice after that? Were they showing you how the character would look as you were voicing it and doing the models?
Kathryn Beaumont Actually, the process was doing the recordings first. Even before that, they would let me sit in on storyboards. When they were ready to record, you could view the whole board and see how the visual was going to work with the dialogue part. That was when they would all sit and make last-minute changes. That's when I saw a lot of creativity going on because the director would then go through the storyboard and somebody might say, 'Hey, what if we put a little sight gag here?' They were looking for other things that they could insert that would make it more interesting. Then the script would be given to me and I would go in and record. Once I was finished recording, Walt wanted me to do the live-action, I suppose, because I was a little girl and he thought that would look more realistic, as to the way I would react to things. We had a little black and white film that we would put on a movieola so that the animators could watch and see how the human figure was moving, so it would look more natural when they were finished. The human body was the hardest, for them, to draw and make look very natural. I would go into this stark-looking studio set and there was hardly anything there. It was just a blue backdrop and the camera and some lights and maybe some boxes that were strategically placed. There was also these cute little devices that they would build for Alice to crawl through or go over, climb, whatever, so they would see my movements. That's what the animators would watch on this little black-and-white. This new Blu-ray does have one that they found, because they lost a lot of that film. They happened to find this one, so they're showing that as one of the extra features then, right after that, showing what it developed into. That was a neat little background thing that showed me doing the live-action, as well as the voice part.
That's really cool they were able to find material like that.
Kathryn Beaumont Yes, it is. They dig and dig and they do find things hidden away in places and it's nice that they can put these things, each time they have a new DVD or whatever. This one has, just on the Blu-ray part of it, six things that are new and interesting and give you a better understanding of the story or the art or whatever. It just helps you appreciate the creativity in these classic films.
You had done a few films before coming on as Alice. Coming from more traditional features, what was the experience with coming into this at such a young age, acting against weird backdrops and things like that?
Kathryn Beaumont Well, at a young age, experiences you have, you just accept that it's the way it is. When I was at MGM, I remember being handed a script, and that was just my little scene that I was going to be in. I would memorize the lines, go on the set and do it and come back, but I would have no idea what the story was about, because that's all I got, was that one little piece. When I was over at Disney, I got the whole script. They always introduced me to everything that was going on so I had an understanding. Of course, I could perform the role better because I knew what was going on. When I came to Disney, I realized it was animation and a whole different process, but then I didn't really have anything else to compare it to, as a small child. So, it was all part of my new experience and so I thought it was exciting and fun. I remember especially looking forward to these live-action days, because they had all this interesting equipment. When Alice was too big for the rabbit house, and her arms and legs were out, they built a little wood house and they were going to put it over my head. We did a rehearsal first, we always had a rehearsal, and the animator came in and said, 'Oh no, that's not going to work at all. We can't see her body. I'm trying to animate Alice and I can't see her waist, or her upper body movie that creates what's going on with her arms on the outside. So, back to the drawing board. What they came up with, was they made a frame house. You know, the early frame house they do when they're constructing. So they put that over me. I was up on a high table with the camera directly on it and we went through the scene and it was perfect for them. They could see what my neck and my shoulders were doing, what my body was doing. There were all these wonderful things.
Finally, what would you like to say to fans of the film or the new remake about why they should pick up the new Blu-ray on February 1?
Kathryn Beaumont Well, the Blu-ray definitely has more rich coloring and details. It is even more noticeable in this new Blu-ray and also the detail work with the backgrounds that the artists did such a wonderful job with. Then there are all these other things. You can watch the movie and then you can click on the next piece, which is to watch the movie again but you're getting all the background with the contemporary artists and writers are explaining each of the scenes and what might be special about how that came to be. There is all this background while you're watching the movie another time. They have one of me doing live-action, and another with the steps that develop into movement. There is just a lot of extra stuff that makes this a worthwhile experience.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, Kathryn. Thank you so much for your time and best of luck.
Kathryn Beaumont Oh, thank you so much. It was great talking to you.
You can pick up the 60th Anniversary of Alice in Wonderland on Blu-ray shelves everywhere February 1.