Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Is it me, or does anyone else out there find the characters from the Broadway musical Cats to be a bit scary.  I mean, you have these human/feline hybrids prancing around the stage wiggling their jazz hands with this makeup that resembles what you might get out of a state fair facepainting booth.  Sorry, but it scares me.  Of course, I’m also allergic to cats…so that doesn’t help my perception.  What does all this have to do with today’s movie?  Well, I couldn’t help but think of the Cats makeup when watching the characters in the 1972 British film “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a movie filled with strange-looking animal/human creatures.

You know the story…Alice follows The White Rabbit down the rabbit hole into a strange land where she meets a variety of strange characters.  Like most film adaptations, the filmmakers have pulled events and characters from both of Lewis Carroll’s books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and rearranged them to suit their purpose.  Certain elements, like The Mad Tea Party, The Caterpillar, and the Cheshire Cat, are present…while others, like The Walrus and The Carpenter & the Jabberwocky, are missing.  Thrown into the mix are several unremarkable songs, many of which are poorly placed in the flow of the story.

In this version, Alice is played by Fiona Fullerton.  Based on her appearance, I theorize that a few years after this film was made, scientists took a sample of her DNA and used it to create a clone which they named Kirsten Dunst.  The resemblance is incredible.  She does a good job as Alice, even if she’s a bit too old for the part.  From what I figure, she was about 15 years old at the time this film was made.  The inhabitants of Wonderland are played by collection of early 70’s British acting talent…many of which are unrecognizable under massive amounts of makeup.  Phantom of the Opera star Michael Crawford is The White Rabbit, Peter Sellers is The March Hare, Dudley Moore is The Dormouse, and good luck recognizing Spike Milligan as the Gryphon..

Though some of the makeup effects look a bit creepy, some of them are pretty incredible.  They were designed by Stuart Freeborn, who’s greatest achievement, in my opinion, was creating the original Yoda puppet for “The Empire Strikes Back.”  There is no denying that amazing skill went into creating these makeup effects, unfortunately, there is almost no room for the actors to come through the makeup.  Only Sellers succeeds in bringing a wide range of expression through his appliances…not surprising considering his other work.

I have mixed feelings about the production design as well.  Portraying Wonderland on film is no easy task, and there are a few set pieces in this film that are quite impressive.  But there are also sequences where the painted backgrounds and styrofoam trees are all too obvious.

Coming right off the psychedelic 60’s, it’s not surprising that in 1972 someone would set out to make a new film version of the Alice story.  Unfortunately, there is almost none of that sort of cultural influence present in this version.  I think the film would have benefited from that considerably.  This adaptation is not bad, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit… it’s just kind of flat.

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8 thoughts on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

  1. I’m pretty sure someone could create a blog completely centered around adaptations and rip-offs of Alice in Wonderland and never run out of material.

    Regardless, I like your review, and I didn’t know this existed. I’ll have to try and see if I can find it.

  2. The songs are most certainly not “unremarkable”. The score was composed by John Barry, the same great talent – one of the world’s major film composers of the 1960s and 70s – who wrote the film scores for THE LION IN WINTER (Academy Award for music), BORN FREE (Academy Award for music), DANCES WITH WOLVES, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, and all the major James Bond themes including Goldfinger and Thunderball. One esteemed and highly respected music critic (Films And Filming – Page Cook) cited the three principle melodies of Barry’s ALICE score as being among the most beautiful songs ever written – inside or out of a film score! You are certainly entitled to not like Barry’s score, but be aware that your negative opinion in no way diminishes the magnificence of the music and Barry’s evident genius.

    • I am an avid collector of film scores and am very familiar with Barry’s work. He is a marvelous talent. His work on the Bond series is especially great. It set the tone for the whole series and I love that composer David Arnold is a student of Barry and has modeled his work on the recent Bond films after Barry’s style on the classic entries in the series.

      But, as far as this film goes, the songs just didn’t do anything for me. Sorry…thanks for you comments, though.

      • Dear squonk – no “sorry” about it, and for multiple reasons: 1) It’s your forum and you can yea or nay as you please. 2) You posted my contrary expression which indicates you are someone who warrants respect. 3) You’re gonna love this one – if we go back in time over 30 years to my old room/apartment we would find a much younger John Bender evaluating his LP collection and we would discover that he, just like you now, did not hold ALICE in especially high regard! It is a quirky score and not one easily adopted as a favorite by Bond/Barry fans, but if viewed in the right light it can become apparent (perhaps surprisingly) just how deeply engaged John was by Lewis Carroll’s madcap dream-scape. In time I came to see, as did Page Cook, that Barry fell in love with the highly unusual material and graced the film with some of his most peculiar, but beautiful writing. Oh, and thank you for bothering to give this nearly lost film and under appreciated score space and attention on your blog. I have heard that Barry’s master tapes were destroyed (only the LP tracks survive), and that no pristine print of the film is known to still exist. PS: What is your favorite Barry/Bond score?

  3. Yikes…not sure I can precisely nail down my fav of the Barry Bond scores. I am waaaaay overdue for my revisiting of the films themselves…but deep in my gut, something’s telling me that the answer to that question may be “Thunderball.” I reserve the right to change that though as something new and different tends to grab me each time I watch the Bond films.

    • Good answer! The two most common (and understandably so) selections by fans for fave Barry/Bond score are THUNDERBALL or ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. They are both masterworks by a genius at the peak of his game. My favorite ultimately became DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. I think I may be in a minority with this, but I do find some solace in the fact that Lukas Kendall of Film Score Monthly feels the same way. Not my favorite Bond film though, not by a long shot. However the scene where Bond is climbing around on the side of the Whyte House always scares the crap out of me, and I adore the perfectly self-effacing humor of Bond ending up on Willard Whyte’s toilet!

      • I’ve always had a soft spot for “Diamonds are Forever.” For that matter, I would rank several of the Guy Hamilton directed Bonds as favorites. “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever,” and…I know I’m in the minority on this…but I love “Live and Let Die.” It’s just so, shall we say “quirky,” compared to many of the others. A unique way to introduce the new Bond, Roger Moore. Sadly, not scored by Barry, though.

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