The "Alice Comedies" are a series of animated cartoons created by Walt Disney in the 1920s, in which a live action little girl named Alice (originally played by Virginia Davis) and and an animated cat named Julius have adventures in an animated landscape.
Disney, Ub Iwerks, and their staff made the first Alice Comedy, a one-reel (ten-minute) short subject titled Alice's Wonderland, while still heading the failing Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Alice's Wonderland begins with Alice entering a cartoon studio to witness cartoons being created. Alice is amazed by what she sees: The cartoon characters come to life and play around. After heading to bed that night, she dreams of being in the cartoon world, welcomed by all of the characters. Alice plays with them until a group of lions break free from a cage and chase her.
This short helped set the stage for what was to come in the later Alice Comedies, as it established the world as a playful dream and also introduced the elements which would soon define the series.
The Alice Comedies series begins
After completing the film, the studio went bankrupt and was forced to shut down. After raising money by working as a freelance photographer, Disney bought a one-way train ticket to Los Angeles, California to live with his uncle Robert and his brother Roy. In California, Disney continued to send out proposals for the Alice series, in hopes of obtaining a distribution deal, which was finally arranged through Winkler Pictures, run by Margaret Winkler and her fianceé, Charles Mintz, on the basis of Alice's Wonderland. Disney convinced Davis' family to bring her from Missouri to Los Angeles to star in the series.
Although seen as cute and funny in their time, the Alice Comedies contain content which might be considered surprising and somewhat harsh today. Alice is a little girl, yet she spends much of her time avoiding danger, and even getting kidnapped by the cartoon villains, threatened with such perils as being tied to a log in a sawmill. These scenes are parodies of similar scenes in movie serials such as The Perils of Pauline (1914), starring actress Pearl White. One such cartoon featured two cartoon characters who allegedly resembled members of the Ku Klux Klan. One of the characters dragged another character into a room marked "Death Chamber", and pulled out a long strand of sausage.
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