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.