Alice on film

Jan.  27 marks the birthday of an author beloved of book nerds,  sci-fi fans, and children everywhere: Charles L. Dodgson, who wrote under the name of Lewis Carroll.   He was best known for the fantasy classic  Alice in Wonderland, a book which has continued to gather fans since its original publication year (1865) and has since spun off into numerous movies,  book tributes, and even the haunting game created by American  McGee.  There`s something about the tale of a little girl falling down a rabbit hole that seems to grab imaginations.  Maybe it`s the exciting possibility of entering another dimension, no matter how nonsensical. And Alice herself is a feisty character-she keeps her composure even  in the face of situations like shrinking to the size of a mouse and dealing with unbalanced  creatures at a mad tea party, never losing her wit and confidence.

I`ve long been a fan of Alice and its sequel, Through The Looking Glass, so I`m always on a quest for the “perfect” film version.  Much like with your favorite comics, a director`s vision is not always going to be your personal one, of course.  But the stories have been lucky enough to inspire some interesting  material. Here`s a look at just a handful of the many Alice flicks. I havn`t included  re-imaginings( MirrorMask, SyFy`s Alice)  because  they`re somewhat outside the scope of this post.

1. Alice in Wonderland, directed by Lou Bunin(1949). I`m obsessed with stop-motion animation, so I`ve always liked Bunin, and this doesn`t disappoint. He was a stop-motion pioneer who once worked with  artist Diego Rivera.  This  film is just delightfully weird.   Instead of the cuddly look that other animators have bestowed on the tale, Bunin`s characters are  odd-looking, sometimes even grotesque, but it works because that`s how a lot of them look in the original Tenniel pictures.  Especially  neat is the White Rabbit.  His animated marionette is slender and hare-like, with disturbingly human facial features.  Some  actors are mixed in with the stop-motion figures, notably Carol Marsh as Alice, who at first seems a bit  mature for the role, but her innocent manner makes her a natural. Stop-motion may seem a bit primitive after watching a lot of modern CGI, but  it`s well worth a look- this is the kind of stuff that influenced people like Henry Selick( director of Nightmare Before Christmas).

2. Disney`s Alice(1951). This one has gotten a lot of grief from hard-core fans of the books.  It`s been criticised as overly sentimental and “cutesy” in its animation style.  However, I tend to think there are some good things here.  Disney`s writers actually kept a lot of Dodgson`s dialogue and visual puns intact, as in the mad tea party and Walrus and the Carpenter scenes.   The movie in general is very colorful and kinetic in its action.  I do have some problems with Alice. She`s drawn in an adorable, wide-eyed anime way, but lacks the audacity she has in other versions. On the other hand, she`s dressed in a  great blue dress and white pinafore that became the model for countless Alice costumes.

3. Alice Through The Looking Glass(1998).  This is a recent live-action adaptation of the second book.  It gets points for visual beauty and  being very faithful to the text.  Strangely, we have a grown-up Alice(Kate Beckinsale) who is presented as reading the story to her daughter(say WHAT? we could use some adult Alice backstory here-it`s not a bad idea, just confusing).  Weird as this device is, you kind of forget about it after a while, and Beckinsale is a charming Alice.  The movie is so low-key that it`s hard to get into for pure entertainment.  Costume design is a bit uneven, too. Ian Holm`s White Knight appears to be simply a polite 1900`s gentleman,  but the Red Queen is wearing a sixties-style jumpsuit.  If one could just put Kate B. in one of the other Alice films, it would be a better fit.

4.Jonathan Miller`s Alice(1966).  Made for the BBC back in the sixties,the movie is not your typical Alice story. Instead of the splashy color used by Disney, it`s filmed in stark black and white.  Alice doesn`t seem to be in Wonderland-more of an ominous dream world populated by eccentrics in Victorian dress who kind of resemble the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, etc.   But it`s oddly compelling, and the scenes with the Queen of Hearts have a surreal, Monty Python-like humor.  Anne-Marie Malik  does well in the title role,  and  there are a bunch of  famous British actors on hand, including Peter Sellars and Leo McKern.

pixel Alice  on film

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