With the exception of Christmas Carol and Peter Pan, there is perhaps no story more frequently brought to the screen than Alice in Wonderland. Written by Lewis Carroll in 1865 it’s a very simple novel, more a collection of short stories in fact. Alice is bored with her life and she goes to Wonderland and meets one nutty creature after another. It is the lack of narrative and creative juices that make it special but also extremely difficult to translate to the big screen.
With the release of Alice Through the Looking Glass today I am going to briefly review 4 different versions of Alice’s story and hopefully you can find one that you like. I have reviewed all 4 on my YouTube channel and if you click here you can view the play list.
1933 Alice in Wonderland
Probably the least familiar of the versions I am going to talk about is this 1933 take on Alice. It is directed by Norman McLeod and stars Charlotte Henry, WC Fields, Edna May Oliver, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper to name a few. It embraces the charm of the novel while also incorporating smaller characters like the Mock Turtle (Cary Grant) and Duchess (Alison Skipworth). I like it because it’s a little bit gross and weird but so is Wonderland. In my eyes it is a better version of what Tim Burton will do in 2010. I think if your kids are open to black and white you should give this one a shot.
1951 Alice in Wonderland
Being an animation junkie this will always be the definitive version in my eyes. It weaves together elements from the first 2 Alice books and keeps the spirit of nonsense and fun. What I love about it is they start the film by Alice declaring ‘the world would be better with more nonsense’ and then she goes to Wonderland and figures out that is not the case. How bold to have a young girl make a proclamation about the world and test it out. None of the characters outlive their welcome and the artistry by great Disney animators like Mary Blair is tremendous. The voice cast is some of the best Disney ever had and the songs are delightful.
2010 Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland and it is not my cup of tea. For some reason he decided to forgo the nonsense of the book and animated film and make his version dark and grim. He ‘YA’d it up by having Alice be the ‘chosen one’ who in a prophecy will save Underland. Groan. It’s joyless, dark and unpleasant. I wouldn’t recommend it for small children as there are some violent and even lewd moments.
2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass
I just saw this today and I was hoping it would be an improvement upon the 2010 film. Unfortunately not so much. Director James Bobin abandons the Looking Glass book which could have been fun and instead makes Alice go to Wonderland to save the Hatter from depression. The problem is why is she doing this? She says they are friends but did we ever really see proof of that in the previous film?
Plus, what she does is very risky and why isn’t the Hatter finding his own family? But all that would be fine if the central reveal over the time travel weren’t so dumb. It’s one of those movie plots that could be solved by a 3 minute conversation and yet the fate of the entire world somehow rests upon it. Groan…
So I’d recommend two of the four Alice in Wonderland movies I’ve highlighted. I know there are other versions I would like to watch. What is your favorite version or do you prefer the book? Put in the comments section.