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Alice Through the Ages


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via Amazon Daily by Amazon Daily on 3/10/10

Alice in Wonderland has been a part of pop culture long before Tim Burton gave it his quirky touch. How many times have you heard someone’s smile described as a “Cheshire Cat grin” or used the expression “I fell down a rabbit hole” to explain getting lost? As Burton’s Alice enjoys a blockbuster opening, we look back at a few other film interpretations of the Lewis Carroll classic. P.S. Has this tale ever been just for kids? 


  • Alice in Wonderland (1903): This B&W silent barely clocks in at nine minutes which was considered a “long” time for films back then. The 107-year-old film is ravaged by scratches, but it’s still watchable here. Director Cecil M. Hepworth’s prehistoric special effects are interesting. Check out when the camera pans back for Alice to “shrink” and the table next to her is replaced with a larger one.


  • Alice in Wonderland (1915): This silent seems to drag on at 51 minutes long but it’s worth a brief look-see if only to appreciate how filmmaking matured in the 12 years since the first Alice. Costuming and sets stepped up a notch, too.


  • Alice in Wonderland (1933): Paramount regulars added some star luster to this version with W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty, Cary Grant as Mock Turtle and Gary Cooper as the White Knight. But the stars were barely recognizable in their character makeup – alas, this didn’t help sell tickets. The film’s original run time of 90 minutes was sliced in half and it was redistributed as a series of  literary classics to be shown in ’50s and’60s classrooms. Oh, oh – that means “educational.”


  • Alice in Wonderland (1951): Alice received the Disney animated touch, but the magic didn’t pay off with awards and box office receipts. Earlier animated tales such as Dumbo (1941),  Pinocchio (1940) and  Fantasia (1940) resonated with audiences and were hailed as instant classics. This Alice was re-released in the’60s and became popular with the counterculture youth who reveled in the wink-wink-nudge-nudge drug references. As Jefferson Airplane advised in their 1967 hit White Rabbit, “Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call.”
  •  Alice in Wonderland: What is a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?(1966): This animated TV special from Hanna Barbera put a mini-skirted Alice into modern times. Even the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Sammy Davis Jr.) wears a beret and a hepcat goatee. Want a catchy song stuck in your head for the rest of the day? Give this cha-cha-ish number a listen in a clip from the show.


  • Alice in Wonderland (1985): Produced by Irwin Allen, aka “Master of Disaster” thanks to his ’70s movie hits like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. This two-part TV special married Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The all-star cast included Sammy Davis Jr. (again – but as the Caterpillar this time), Ringo Starr, Sid Caesar, Martha Raye, Scott Baio and Sherman Helmsley.


  • Alice in Wonderland (1999): This three-hour TV special was pure casting genius. Check it out: Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat, Miranda Richardson as the Queen of Hearts, Ben Kingsley as Major Caterpillar, George Wendt (Norm!) as Tweedledee, Martin Short as the Mad Hatter and Peter Ustinov as Walrus. It took home four Emmys, including a much-deserved one for special effects. See the trailer here.

Other notable Alice adaptations include:

  • Alice in Wonderland (1966): Peter Sellers stars in this Alice filmed for the BBC along with John Gielgud. Music by Ravi Shankar. 
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972): Some critics say this version is more faithful to the Carroll original than others. With Peter Sellers (again!) Dudley Moore, and Fiona Fullerton as Alice.
  • Alice (2009): Harry Dean Stanton? Tim Curry? Yep, and add Kathy Bates to the mix in this miniseries from the Syfy cable network.


– Francine Ruley


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