The Movie Watcher’s Guide to Alice in Wonderland

The Important Characters

  • Alice: She’s impertinent, abides no nonsense, and is fond of saying things like “Curiouser and curiouser!” She is fairly well-mannered, but se talks to herself throughout the story, and doesn’t come away with a huge life lesson at the end. She’s just had a wacky adventure.
  • The White Rabbit: A bit of a nervous nelly who acts lofty towards his peers, and grovels in his job as a herald to the King and Queen of Hearts. He’s constantly worried about being late.
  • The Caterpillar: He’s slow, methodical, three inches tall, smokes a hookah and speaks in riddles. He’s probably the coolest character in the entire book.
  • The Cheshire Cat: He’s sassy, likes to wax philosophic, and can dematerialize. Granted, he’s pretty cool too, but in my opinion he has nothing on the Caterpillar.
  • The Mad Hatter: While he’s only referred to as “The Hatter” in the book, he’s definitely mad. Completely off his rocker, goofy, and bizarre. There are no moments of lucidity, he’s all bonkers.
  • The March Hare: Likewise, the Hatter’s buddy The March Hare is wiggity wack as well. He’s constantly confused, offering Alice tea then pulling it away at the last second. Sort of a jerk.
  • The Dormouse: A drowsy little mouse who keeps falling asleep at the table. She wakes up to join in the conversation from time to time, but is mostly catatonic.
  • The Queen of Hearts: A bitter card of a woman who continually orders beheadings as a way of settling anything.
  • The Knave of Hearts: He’s a card (literally) and a bit of a scoundrel, having allegedly stolen the Queen’s tarts for which he is put on trial.

*Note: although they appear in  Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, The White Queen, and The Jabberwock are all characters in Carrol’s sequel, “Through The Looking Glass.” I’m including the book versions of those characters in this section, just for completion. Note that The Red Queen and The Queen of Hearts are often mistaken for the same person … they’re not. They are two entirely different people, although over the years they’ve been combined into one character in several adaptations, including Burton’s.

  • The Red Queen: Alice’s first meeting with her is cordial, but when they play a game chess with themselves as the pieces (Alice is a pawn who gets promoted to Queen), she turns mischievous.
  • The White Queen: A flighty woman who experiences time backwards, and shies away from enemies. She encourages Alice to believe “six impossible things before breakfast”.
  • Tweedledee and Tweedledum: two identical (according to Tenniel’s illustrations, not Carroll’s writing) brothers who speak in nursery rhyme, and then act it out. Their words always complement each other.
  • The Jabberwock: Simply a character in a poem entitled “The Jabberwocky” that Alice reads in a book she finds. The print is backwards, but she discovers she can read it when holding it up in a mirror.

Other Notable Adaptations

The Animated Disney Version (1951)

While there have been numerous adaptations of Carroll’s book, the most famous is Disney’s 1951 animated version. Disney himself had been fascinated with Alice in Wonderland for a long time, and in 1923 he produced a short film called Alice’s Wonderland which featured a live-action Alice interacting with animated characters. He went on to produce 50 silent Alice short comedies, which were successful and gave him the freedom to develop some characters of his own, including Mickey Mouse. He planned on releasing a feature film version of Alice in Wonderland, again using a combination of live-action and animated characters, but Paramount released their own version in 1933 starring Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, and W.C. Fields. Disney registered the title with the MPAA in 1938, but World War II, disagreements over the production, and other factors put the film on hold until 1951 when a version heavy on songs and very loosely based on the two books came to theaters. Over 30 songs were created for the movie, but some are only heard for a few brief seconds.

The Live-Action British Version (1972)

You’ve probably never seen this one, although it’s worth seeking out. It stars Fiona Fullerton as Alice (best known as the KGB spy Pola Ivanova in the James Bond flick A View To A Kill), Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers, Michael Crawford (Basil Exposition!), Sir Ralph Richardson (The Supreme Being from Time Bandits), Hywel Bennett (Mr. Croup from the BBC version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), Roy Kinnear (Veruca Salt’s father in the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka, and the hapless man in the Mike + The Mechanics music videos), and a slew of others. While it hasn’t been widely seen, it’s one of the more faithful adaptations of the book. It has a full soundtrack, complete with songs and arrangements by John Barry. The same John Barry who composed the James Bond theme, and soundtracks for many of the Bond films.

The X-Rated Musical Version (1976)

This is the version you’ve definitely never seen, and Disney probably wishes it never existed. But yes, it’s real. It’s made over $90 million dollars, making it one of the most successful pornographic movies of all time, and Roger Ebert even reviewed it in 1976.  Check out the trailer on the website for the film, which will brainwash you with it’s “Where Are You Going Girl?” song that loops over and over.

The CBS TV Movie Version (1985)

When I was 14 years old I fastidiously recorded this on two videotapes back in 1985, and I absolutely loved it. Looking back, it definitely doesn’t hold up well, but the thing had a cavalcade of stars in it including: Sid Ceasar, Telly Savalas, Sammy Davis, Jr., Red Buttons, Donald O’Connor, Carol Channing, Roddy McDowall, Jayne Meadows, Arte Johnson, Scott Baio, Sherman Hemsley, Ernest Borgnine and a ton of other stars of yesteryear. It’s slightly over three hours long, and is divided into two parts that are loosely based on the two books. If you like the old school comedy of Your Show of Shows, this is a gem.

The Stop-Motion Version (1988)

Technically this is a mixture of live-action and stop-motion, but who’s counting? This is from Czech surrealist filmmaking Jan Švankmajer, and is completely genius. If there’s one version of Alice that you need to seek out, it’s this one. Don’t go running off in search of the porno, pick up this version on DVD. Young Alice provides all the voices for the different characters, and you have to see the wonderful things Švankmajer has done with them. It’s dark, mysterious, and well worth your time.

The NBC TV Movie Version (1999)

NBC put together a version of Alice that starred Ben Kingsley, Martin Short, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Ustinov, Christopher Lloyd, Gene Wilder, and Miranda Richardson. Alice was played by Tina Majorino (Deb from Napoleon Dynamite … did you know she’s also the little girl in Waterworld? Wow, the things you learn on the internet), and Jason Flemying (Tom from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) is even in this thing as the Knave of Hearts. The film largely follows the plot of the first book, while adding in several scenes and characters from Through the Looking Glass. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop produced many of the puppet effects in this, and there was a fair amount of CG work done, especially for a TV movie in 1999.

The Sci-Fi Channel Version (2009)

I have to confess, I haven’t seen this one. Although I’ll admit I’m intrigued. RHI Entertainment produced the very successful Tin Man movie for Sci-Fi back in 2007, which was a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, and they decide to do the same thing with Alice in Wonderland, although they kept this in continuity. It’s set 150 years after the events of the first book, takes places in a bizarre, futuristic version of Wonderland, and stars Kathy Bates, Tim Curry, Colm Meaney, Matt Frewer, and Harry Dean Stanton amongst others. The reviews for it are all over the place, but I’d be willing to give it a chance. I’d give it even more of a chance if Sci-Fi reverts to that and drops the ridiculous SyFy name.

So, there you have it. You’re either ready to go watch Tim Burton’s incarnation … or listen to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” Heck, by now you should be able to watch The Matrix again and pick out all the allusions to Alice in Wonderland. If you’re really feeling gutsy, go find a copy of the America McGee’s Alice video game for a real trip. If they end up making a sequel to this, we’ll be back to tell you the secret history of Dodgson, his alleged relationship with the real Alice (ew), and the codes he supposedly hid in the books. But for now, we hope you’ve learned something.

On the Next Page: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland trailer and photo gallery >>

I was raised in the Metroplex of Dallas/Fort Worth, and fled at the age of 18 to Austin, Texas, where I was inundated with a whirlwind of new pop culture experiences. Mainly movies, television, and video games. Everything from art house flicks to big budget movie kept me sane, and still do. Somewhat. I now live on the fringe of Los Angeles.

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