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Alice In Wonderland (1985)

DVD Cover (Sony Home Entertainment)
Movie Connections:
Alice In Wonderland
> Alice In Wonderland (1933)
> Alice In Wonderland (1951)
> Alice In Wonderland: An X-Rated... (1976)
> Alice In Wonderland (1985)
> Alice (1988)
> Alice In Wonderland (1999)
> Alice (2009)
> Alice In Wonderland (2010)
> Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016)
Genres:
Children's / Family, Children's Fantasy, Fairy Tales & Legends, Fantasy
Director:
Harry Harris Harry Harris
Starring:
Natalie Gregory Natalie Gregory
Sheila Allen Sheila Allen
Sharee Gregory Sharee Gregory
Red Buttons Red Buttons
Sherman Hemsley Sherman Hemsley

7.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: February 26, 2014
A few months ago, one of my best friends passed away. She was one of the biggest bibliophiles you could ever hope to meet, and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was her absolute favorite; her extensive book collection had no less than fifteen different copies and variations of it. It's her birthday today, and I'd like to review a handful of adaptations as something of a tribute to her. Growing up, this two-part CBS miniseries was my favorite version, and I'm glad I got to share it with her beforehand.

Unlike most adaptations which tell the story of Wonderland and include some key scenes out of Looking Glass, this one took advantage of the two parts and told both stories in full, albeit conjoining them into a single adventure. Her adventure starts in the usual way: she's hanging out with her sister when a rabbit runs past her, checking his pocket watch and noting how late he is. Overcome with curiosity, she takes off in pursuit, chasing him into a rabbit hole where she falls into Wonderland. As she deals with its wacky inhabitants and the strange effects its food has on her, her primary mission becomes finding a way home. Like in the ending of the first novel, Alice wakes up in the field and runs home, except here it's a false awakening. With horror, she realizes she's woken up on the wrong side of the mirror. After an attack by the horrifying Jabberwocky (yet another movie that confuses the name of the poem with the creature), an owl portrait on the wall tells her the only way to get home from Looking Glass Land is to get over her many fears before they consume her.

As far as adaptations go, I'll admit that this one kind of sucks. Two themes run throughout the mini-series, homesickness and growing up, and neither one is a welcome addition to the story. In fact, I would go as far as to say they're a slap in the face to the story. The books are about a young girl with an over-active imagination enjoying two incredibly absurd dreams. Her motivations in both books are much more playful (reaching a beautiful garden and becoming a queen respectively), which is why it's so much easier to enjoy them with her. Instead, Alice spends the entire film miserable because she wants to go home, while the Wonderlandians take great pleasure in tormenting her. Sure, in the book, a lot of them were curt to the border-line of rudeness, but here they were openly antagonistic. Again, it takes away our enjoyment as a viewer since we're basically watching a bunch of adults be total dicks to a small child, and when they do switch back into the whimsy of Carroll's lines, the shift is jarring as hell. Plus, the source writing is great, so why would you even want to change that dialogue at all is beyond me.

Despite all of these problems however, I still liked it. When the characters aren't being total jerks, there's a lot of fun to be had in their banter. The tea party and the scene where the Gryphon takes Alice to meet the Mock Turtle both feature some great lines throughout their entirety, and the rest of the movie doesn't slouch either. Just try not to smile watching the Cook throwing plates and pepper all over the place or watching the Walrus and the Carpenter play out their scheme with the oysters. Also, I've read more than one review criticizing the costumes, but I find them pretty endearing. They're not super-expensive latex costumes or any kind of animatronic, but rather something you'd see in a community theater rendition. Glorified furry suits really. The only ones that bugged me were the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar and the Gryphon, and all for the same reason. None of them had any prosthetics or make-up on their face; they looked like men wearing a hood, and simply painting the exposed skin would have gotten rid of all of my reservations.

You know, for only being ten years old, Natalie Gregory was surprisingly solid as Alice. I had no trouble buying her happiness, her fear, her sadness, she did well with the dance numbers, and most importantly, she didn't annoy the hell out of me. She retired from acting at the ripe old age of fifteen, which is a shame. If this is the talent level she started at, she could have been a damned fine actress later on. As for her co-stars, just look at this list of names. Red Buttons. Sammy Davis Jr. Ringo Starr. Telly Savalas. John Stamos. Pat Morita. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure I don't have to run through the lineup and tell you that everyone was well above par, but I will say that I absolutely loved Sammy Davis Jr. as the Caterpillar. The only person who I feel was miscast might be Savalas as the Cheshire Cat. He just didn't hit that sly mischievousness that defines the character, but then again, it might be more accurate to blame the rewrite than the actor. Finally, Ringo Starr is a big part of why the Mock Turtle would go on to become my favorite character from the franchise. Enough said.

Alice in Wonderland is a musical and as it stands, the songs are either hit or miss. The problem is that all of the 'miss' songs are slow ballads that completely drag the film down to a crawl; Cheshire Cat's "There's No Way Home", Alice's "Why Do People", and the White Knight's "We Are Dancing" almost had me falling asleep in front of my TV and again, watching Hatter serenade Alice with "Laugh" after bluntly insulting her several times was so out of place. These problems are all from those added themes that shouldn't be there in the first place. Fortunately, the more upbeat songs are great, with "There's Something to Say", "I Hate Dogs and Cats" and "Can You Do Addition? as stand-outs. Perhaps it goes without saying that the best songs uses Carroll's lyrics from the books. I was having a ball watching the Caterpillar recite "Old Father William, and while I was a bit disappointed that they cut two verses out, I could see that being a bit too long winded if they left unaltered. Thankfully, the better songs outweigh the bad ones by a good margin. One bit of an oddity I do have to mention is "Nonsense" sang by the Mock Turtle. On the one hand, it's one of my favorite songs in both parts of the film, but on the other, it replaced my favorite song in both the books, "The Lobster Quadrille." What truly bothers me, however, is that the song is just so out of character with the morose character. Sure, Starr nailed it, but it certainly should have been given to a different character. Hell, it would have been a great one for the Chesire Cat, and they could have gotten rid of that boring garbage song they gave him.

So, I'm not quite sure how to rate this. Surely, this is one of those times where revisiting something you loved as a child doesn't quite measure up as an adult, but a big part of that is that I've since read the book, enjoyed it much more, and it's the deviations that bother me. Still, I suppose it's unfair to judge the movie by the book, and on it's own merits, it's a fun little kids movie. 6.5/10.
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