Thursday, April 14, 2011

Classics: How Many Alice in Wonderlands Are There?

Just how many variations on Alice in Wonderland (and Alice Through the Looking Glass) are there on Netflix Watch Instantly?  Well...this certainly isn't a complete list of all the adaptations ever made (dating back to 1903), but it should keep you busy if you want to see how different filmmakers and stage directors have been inspired by the source material by Lewis Carroll.

Alice (Jan Svankmajer, Czechoslovakia, 1988, 86 minutes)
Netflix: After her stuffed rabbit opens a portal inside her dresser, Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) crosses over into a world of puppets and dead animals in Czech director Jan Svankmajer's bizarre adaptation of Lewis Carroll's children's book, considered a classic of surreal cinema. Svankmajer gives the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat equally warped makeovers via stop-motion animation and stark cinematography. Netflix link.

This is my main inspiration for this entry, so please watch it soon because it expires on Netflix Watch Instantly on April 21.  This is not necessarily for younger kids (they might find it a bit off-putting) and it is a rather loose adaptation of the Alice story (taking Carroll just as a starting point, really).  But it is extremely imaginative and one of Svankmajer's best films.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (William Sterling, UK, 1972, 96 minutes)
Netflix: An all-star cast highlights this vibrant musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll's immortal tale. One day, plucky young Alice (Fiona Fullerton) follows a white rabbit (Michael Crawford) down a hole and discovers a world of bizarre characters. She meets mad March Hare (Peter Sellers), enigmatic Caterpillar (Ralph Richardson), Dormouse (Dudley Moore), the haughty Queen of Hearts (Flora Robson), the curious Mad Hatter (Robert Helpmann) and many more. Netflix link.

This has an even more urgent deadline, expiring tomorrow, April 15.  Be warned that Variety called this a major disappointment upon its initial release in 1972, despite the score by John Barry.  The Digital Fix has a more extended review that concludes that this is for "Carroll completists only."  This version does have some fans in the Netflix user reviews, however.

Alice in Wonderland (Dallas Bower, France, 1949, 76 minutes)
Netflix: The charming Carol Marsh stars as Alice alongside a cast of marvelous puppets created by renowned puppeteer Louis Bunin in this acclaimed 1950 adaptation of Lewis Carroll's tale of curious characters and strange happenings down the rabbit hole. Directed by Dallas Bower and featuring superb musical numbers, the wonderfully eccentric film also stars Pamela Brown, Felix Aylmer, Ernest Milton and Stephen Murray. Netflix link.

This version was not widely seen in the United States initially due to a legal dispute with Disney, who of course had their own animated version in the works at the time.  The animation components were designed by stop-motion pioneer Lou Bunin, who was a casualty of blacklisting in the 1950s.  Despite the fact that Alice is supposed to be 7 1/2 years old, star Carol Marsh was 20 years-old at the time (perhaps setting a precedent for the 19-year-old Alice in the 2010 version).

Alice in Wonderland (Kirk Browning, USA, 1983, 87 minutes)
Netflix: Part of PBS's "Great Performances" series, this musical version of Lewis Carroll's classic story features Richard Burton as the White Knight and Burton's daughter, Kate, as the eponymous girl who wanders into a surreal world. A host of stars includes Maureen Stapleton as the White Queen, Eve Arden as the Queen of Hearts, Donald O'Connor as the Mock Turtle, Colleen Dewhurst as the Red Queen and Nathan Lane in an early role as the Dormouse. Netflix links.

This was a television studio re-creation of a revival of Eva Le Gallienne's 1932 stage adaptation, which is considered to be the inspiration for the 1933 all-star Paramount film adaptation.  According to DVD Journal, much of the music in this version comes from a 1947 Broadway revival.

Alice Through the Looking Glass (John Henderson, UK, 1998, 83 minutes)
Netflix: Once upon a time, Alice traveled to Wonderland. Now, she takes another journey and meets up with Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty, the Red King and Queen, Red and White Knights and Jabberwocky. Join the intrepid Alice on a magical adventure. Kate Beckinsale, Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton star in this live-action adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic, directed by John Henderson. Netflix link.

This is one of the few stand-alone adaptations of Alice Through the Looking Glass, the source of Jaberwocky and Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Alice in Wonderland (Nick Willing, USA, 1999, 133 minutes)
Netflix: Lewis Carroll's remarkable children's tale comes to life in an exciting live-action feature. After Alice (Tina Majorino) follows a talking white rabbit into a strange world where everything isn't as it seems, she befriends a strange array of characters brought to life by Jim Henson's creature shop. The all-star cast includes Robbie Coltrane, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lloyd, Pete Postlethwaite, Miranda Richardson and Martin Short. Netflix link.
Variety praises the animatronic and computer effects by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, but pans the acting in this Hallmark Entertainment adaptation.

Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton, USA, 2010, 108 minutes)
Netflix: A 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) journeys through Underland, where she experiences strange ordeals and encounters peculiar characters, including the vaporous Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and the sadistic Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Matt Lucas and Crispin Glover co-star in this inventive, Golden Globe-nominated adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic. Netflix link.

I think the jury is still out on this most recent version, with a wide variety of mixed responses.

In my brief research for this entry, the one additional adaptation that I think I'd like to pursue on DVD is Jonathan Miller's 1966 BBC adaptation, Alice in Wonderland. Scott Thill explains in Bright Lights Film Journal that Miller's adaptation plays down the spectacle, which might make an interesting corrective to the Burton version.

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