“We’re all mad here.”
Lewis Carroll’s most popular work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, has been adapted for the screen dozens of times, usually under the moniker Alice in Wonderland. This particular production is a live-action telecast broadcast on the BBC in January 1986. It’s a collection of four musical episodes which together detail the adventures of Alice (Kate Dorning) as she travels to and from Wonderland.
* “Episode One”
Lewis Carroll (David Leonard) starts to tell Alice and her sisters the story of Wonderland. Sitting beside her sister (Joanne Rolfe), Alice spies a White Rabbit (Jonathan Cecil) and takes off after him, only to fall down a seemingly endless hole. Once inside, she struggles to become the right size to gain access to the beautiful garden she’s found. Although she fails, she meets a group of animals and engages in a Caucus race.
* “Episode Two”
As the company set up their picnic, Carroll continues the story. Alice once again meets the White Rabbit who calls her “Mary Ann” and sends her on an errand but she becomes trapped in his house. After freeing herself, Alice is determined to find the garden she saw before. Her travels lead her to the Caterpillar (Roy Macready), who helps her to become the size she wishes to be; the Duchess (Claire Davenport), who kidnaps a child/pig; and The Cheshire Cat (Michael Wisher), who appears and disappears at will.
* “Episode Three”
The picnic is eaten and the storytelling continues. Alice finds The Mad Hatter’s (Pip Donaghy) and joins in a tea party alongside his guests the March Hare (Neil Fitzwilliam) and the Dormouse (Elisabeth Sladen, The Sarah Jane Adventures). Tensions soon cause Alice to storm off, but luckily finds the garden she’s been looking for where she meets The Queen of Hearts (Janet Henfrey) and her husband the King (Brian Oulton) who invite her to play croquet.
* “Episode Four”
As the group gets back into their boat and begins the journey home, Carroll resumes telling the story. The Gryphon (Brian Miller) leads Alice to the Mock Turtle (Roy Skelton) in order to learn his history, but it soon devolves into a dance demonstration. Alice abandons the duo to return to The Queen of Hearts’ palace where The Knave (Mark Bassenger) is on trial for stealing the Queen’s tarts. Just when the trial reaches the height of absurdity, Alice wakes up, revealing the story to have been only a dream. Carroll finishes the tale as he helps row the party back home.
What I appreciate most about this adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is the effort to incorporate the story of how the book came about. Most versions begin with Alice spying the White Rabbit and off we go, following her on her adventures down the rabbit hole. The decision to include the character of Carroll himself was a change from the norm, one which made me more interested in the story than I may have been otherwise.
This Alice in Wonderland is like watching a taped broadcast of a play, not just in look and sound, but performance as well. Since it’s a musical, there was a definite theatrical feel. I can take or leave the musical numbers, though they did break up what would have been rather boring parts of the tale, such as Alice being stuck inside the White Rabbit’s house.
The standard def 1.33:1 full screen image offers a flat desaturated palette, but smart editing keeps the obvious in-camera effects as believable as they could be for the time. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo track presented a somewhat difficult challenge, as I found myself having to adjust the volume quite frequently. There are no special features.
There are so many adaptations of Alice in Wonderland you really have your pick of the litter. While I appreciate the “real life” aspects of this version, there aren’t enough compelling aspects to make me offer a purchase recommendation. Unless you clearly remember seeing it previously and want it as a bit of nostalgia, you can safely say steer clear.