Alice in Wonderland – “The Original Live-Action Classic”
Okay, I’m a HUGE Alice in Wonderland fan. Forget being a friend of Dorothy, I’m an acquaintance of Alice. I loved the story as a kid and it was the first school play I did voluntarily (and really enjoyed doing) so I regularly go back and either re-read or re-watch one of the films. A few months back, in one of my comfort spending moments, I found the DVD of the version with Cary Grant and Gary Cooper in (amongst many others of course). Sadly it was also one of those purchases which was made as a comfort spend and then got put on the shelf with the thought “I’ll watch that in a while”. Well by my standards, several months later is very much within the “while” window (there are DVD’s I’ve had for years and not watched yet). It also wasn’t a version I’d seen before so, rather than going for the well watched Disney version, it’s back to black and white and 1933.
And already I’m confused and angry… you see I’m very much an Alice separatist. There’s Wonderland and there’s Looking Glass and I’m never a fan of the mix-and-match approach. Don’t ask me why, I couldn’t tell you but I just like my Wonderland characters to be in Wonderland and everyone else in the Looking Glass land. So this film (definitely titled Alice in Wonderland) didn’t do itself many favours by starting with the Looking Glass opening. Technology being what it was in 1933 (ie largely absent), they’ve done their best to have Alice in the same shot as the white King and Queen and watching this on DVD probably didn’t do it too many favours. I’m guessing even on a 1930s’ cinema screen the picture quality would have maybe been slightly less than pin sharp and so, to adjust, I watched the rest of the film with my glasses off and it did it huge amounts of favours (I did put them on from time to time to see how certain things looked though). So, slightly pacified over less than special effects and keen to see the Looking Glass story instead of the advertised product… I was rather shocked that fairly soon after passing through the mirror, Alice fell down a rabbit hole into Wonderland! Really not what I was expecting at all!
Wonderland, 1930s style, mostly consisted of people in slightly tatty looking animal costumes (glasses taken off fairly hastily when I realised) and people in rather strangely styled masks. It’s almost like Alice’s Adventures in Bo’Selecta Land at times. Anyway, the next 2/3 of the film were a fairly faithful telling of the standard Alice story. Fairly soon I was happily immersed in the land of Hatters, Rabbits, Playing Cards and Queens. A few times it was fairly obvious they were using slightly speeded up footage to try and create certain effects but all in all they did their best to make Wonderland a believable place. Until all of a sudden we were back in Looking Glass land and visiting Humpty Dumpty, Tweedles Dum and Dee and more chess pieces. Quite disconcerting as I’ve not really seen an Alice with such a sudden and blunt transition from one to the other (normally the characters are mixed together). However, it did mean that I got to see a rather charming White Knight, an animated Walrus and Carpenter and a VERY strange and almost cannibalistic dinner sequence where Alice becomes a Queen in her own right.
The Caterpillar was possibly the only disappointing portrayal in this one (but, as no-one could ever be as good as the definitive early 90s stage performance that a certain person gave in the school production that’s hardly surprising) but the charm of this film carried me through to the end with a Cheshire cat like grin on my face. Primitive, definitely. Dubious flying and other special effects, undoubtedly. A certain sense of child like glee at discovering which characters would pop up next… without doubt and that’s all that really mattered in the end. Okay, I might not re-watch this one as much as I re-watch the Disney one (that one has songs, therefore it wins) but I can see this one coming of the shelf from time to time if only to see if the talking Christmas pudding freaks me out as much as it did first time around.