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Alice In Wonderland (1933)

DVD Cover (Universal)
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:
Norman Z. McLeod Norman Z. McLeod
Starring:
Richard Arlen Richard Arlen
Roscoe Ates Roscoe Ates
William Austin William Austin
Gary Cooper Gary Cooper
Leon Errol Leon Errol

6.4 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: February 26, 2015
It's been over a year since my friend Kerri passed away, and the time hasn't done much in the way of healing. Being her birthday has come around again, I thought I'd put together another round of adaptations based on her favorite book: Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. This particular movie came out way back in 1933.

As I've mentioned in my past reviews, the book doesn't exactly have much of a plot per se. It basically boils down to episodic meetings with a collection of crazy characters. What's interesting about this release is that it chose to use the opening of the book's sequel, Through the Looking Glass, where Alice steps through the mirror in her living room to begin her adventure. Granted, it stacked her following the white rabbit down the rabbit hole right after, and like most adaptations, this used bits from both books, but it used a lot more of that second book's framework than future adaptations would. After watching the handful that I have it was nice change of pace, since her interaction with the chess pieces in her looking-glass living room or her queen's banquet in the eighth square are usually dropped in favor of the Knave of Heart's trial. And most importantly, at least in my opinion, is that the scenes they used were all recreated fairly accurately from the book.

I have to say, the special effects here were extremely impressive. Considering it was released in the early thirties, I wasn't expecting anything like this. Her floating falls all looked incredibly smooth, and I enjoyed the wavy effect they used whenever Alice was changing sizes. Perhaps the best testament to these effects is that while they would obviously be cheaper than what we're used to seeing, if a made-for-TV movie was released today using these same techniques, it'd be more than acceptable. The characters were brought to life with a mixture of puppetry and costumes and they went through a lot of effort to mirror John Tenniel's style from the book's illustrations. While I appreciate the thought, I don't think they translated very well into live-action. Most of the characters looked more grotesque than anything else and even though Tenniel used such an exaggerated style, I don't believe that was his intention. Still, by film's end I had gotten used to it and if nothing else, it was interesting to see his illustrations brought to life so directly.

The only real misstep here is with the acting. More than a handful of characters here just phoned in the lines with a quick monotone. The Caterpillar is perhaps the most grievous example. I'm convinced Ned Sparks had somewhere to be and was trying to get out of there as quickly as possible. This piss-poor portrayal is even more depressing after you see what Richard Haydn did with the characters in the 50s, or even Sammy Davis Jr. after that. It's a really fun character that was shafted for no reason. Fortunately, there were plenty of cast members who actually gave a damn that were able to cover their slack. Among those was Sterling Holloway. While he handled the relatively minor role of the Duchess' frog doorman, his appearance here gave me a smile as twenty years later he'd return to the franchise, voicing the Cheshire Cat in the Disney cartoon. Thankfully, Charlotte Harris also took her role seriously. Had Alice herself been rushing through the lines without any emotion, nothing could have saved this movie.

Don't let that release date fool you, this seventy-two year old movie was an absolute ball. While I do wish some of the actors gave a little more enthusiasm, the collateral damage wasn't enough to totally dismantle it. It's a shame she never got to see this; I think she would have liked it. 7/10.
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