Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland (1985)

Stars: 1 out of 5
Pros: Mostly faithful to the books
Cons: Takes out the fun of the stories while trying to impart life lessons
The Bottom Line:
Poor adaptation
Manages to suck the joy
From these fun stories

Slow Trip Down the Rabbit Hole

I remember hearing some publicity for this 1985 mini-series version of Alice in Wonderland way back then and thinking it might be pretty cool to watch.  I wasn't able to see it then and finally just sat down to watch it.  Maybe I would have a better opinion of it had I watched it as a kid, but watching it for the first time as an adult was a painful experience.

In this three hour mini-series (originally four hours with commercials, I'm sure) we get both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  The first half starts out fairly familiar as Alice (Natalie Gregory) follows the White Rabbit (Red Buttons) down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.  As she searches for the way home, she meets the Caterpillar (Sammy Davis, Jr.), the Mad Hatter (Anthony Newley), and the Queen of Hearts (Jayne Meadows).  As the original story ends, Alice wakes find herself in Mirrorland.  Her only way back is to reach the eighth square in a game of chess.  Along this new trip, she meets the Red and White Queens (Ann Jillian and Carol Cummings) and Humpty-Dumpty (Jonathan Winters).  Will she ever get back?

The adaptors attempted to give the movie some new plot points as Alice wants to go home as well as be seen as enough of a grown up to have tea.  The second part introduces the Jabberwocky, who isn't just a poem but a monster whom Alice must stop running from and face to be a grown up.  Um...where were the serious life lessons in the books?  They were just supposed to be fun adventures.  And, frankly, the Jabberwocky scenes could scare the only audience who might enjoy the film, young kids, especially the climax where it chases all the characters around a castle for much longer than necessary.

This really did have an all star cast.  In addition to those I've named, we've got the likes of Scott Baio, Sherman Hemsley, Sid Caesar, and John Stamos.  With this cast, I expected the acting to be outstanding.  Honestly, it's only mediocre at best.  At times, I felt like they were trying too hard, others not nearly enough.

I do blame some of this on the writing.  Having reread the books in the last few months, I can say with confidence that they left some of the best bits out.  Maybe if the actors had been given the full material to work with, they could have gotten into their performances.

1985 wasn't a great time for TV special effects, and that shows in the visuals.  They are adequate to get the point across, but they certainly aren't going to impress anyone.  The costumes the cast wears are a little better even if they do look like expensive Halloween costumes.

And have I mentioned that this is a musical with songs written by Steve Allen?  Probably because the songs are so forgettable and completely interchangeable.  Seriously, after two or three, I thought I was listening to the same song I already heard only to realize I hadn't heard that song before.  Honestly, when the characters started to sing, I would tune out or fast forward.  The chorography looked like something from an elementary school production.  The only exception was the "Father Brown" song that allowed Sammy David, Jr. to entertain with some good tap dancing.

This version of Alice in Wonderland managed to suck all the fun out of these classic books.  Don't waste three hours here.  Read the books instead.

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