As “Avatar” seems to have brought 3-D out of the woodwork, so too has “Alice in Wonderland” caused the many filmed versions of Lewis Carroll’s adventurous novel to resurface. DVD specialist Dennis Lim wrote a Sunday Calendar story summarizing some of the new releases of old material that reacquainted us with various interpretations of Alice, the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter and more. Here’s an excerpt.
— Jevon Phillips
More than a children’s classic, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the 1865 book by Lewis Carroll, is ground zero for a multi-tentacled media franchise that has been going strong for nearly 150 years.
The Victorian forebear of a variety of 20th century artistic movements, drug cultures and fashion trends, it has inspired untold authors and musicians, served as the basis for dozens of film and television versions, and been tailored and twisted to fit almost every narrative form imaginable, from musical theater to soft-core porn to video game.
Tim Burton’s 3-D “Alice,” which opened March 5, has brought with it a DVD deluge of earlier adaptations. New and upcoming releases include an improbably star-studded 1933 Hollywood production with Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and many others (Universal, $19.98); Disney’s animated take from 1951 (a two-disc “un-anniversary” edition, $29.99); a 1966 version made for British television with Peter Sellers, John Gielgud and Michael Redgrave (BBC Warner, $14.98); an NBC TV movie from 1999 with Ben Kingsley, Miranda Richardson and Whoopi Goldberg (Vivendi, $19.93); and a miniseries that aired on the SyFy Channel last year with a somewhat oddball cast including Kathy Bates, Tim Curry and Harry Dean Stanton (Lionsgate, $19.98).
Besides attesting to the caliber of actors who have ended up in “Alice” projects over the years, the various productions suggest how malleable Carroll’s fable has always been. Though far from a classic, the upbeat 1951 Disney animated version remains the standard bearer for a kid-friendly “Alice.”
The black-and-white British TV film, directed by Jonathan Miller at the height of the Swinging ’60s and featuring a Ravi Shankar score, avoids the expected psychedelic clichés, reveling in subtler druggy atmospherics.
The recent miniseries, in which a modern-day Alice is a martial-arts expert, fits with the ongoing revisionist vogue for empowered Alices. (In Burton’s film, she’s 19 and more action heroine than passive visitor.)
The most satisfying of all the reissues, the 1933 “Alice in Wonderland” — actually the second sound-era “Alice,” after an obscure 1931 version — is reasonably faithful to the original and, as such, gratifyingly weird. Combining elements of “Alice’s Adventures” and its 1872 sequel “Through the Looking-Glass,” the film was directed by the unheralded Norman McLeod; in almost every other respect, though, it was an A-list endeavor.
– Dennis Lim
Photos: (Top) Johnny Depp, left, Mia Wasikowska, center, and Anne Hathaway in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Credit: Disney. (Bottom) Anne-Marie Mallik stars as a disaffected Alice in the 1966 BBC adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” Credit: BBC/MCT
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