Nearly everyone has a film from their childhood that they can recite line for line, one that, even if they haven’t seen it in years, they know nearly every frame by heart yet still adore that movie. In 1985 CBS aired a two part mini-series depicting the adventures of Alice as she traveled through Wonderland. Filled with some of the biggest stars of the era, this was a monumental series that still resonates to this day. As the tv movie special was broken up into two nights, each night a feature length episode of it’s own, I felt that this one deserves two separate reviews. So here is Alice in Wonderland Part One.
Today’s Key Movie:
A faithful adaptation of the classic Lewis Carroll book of the same name, Produced by Irwin Allen with music by Steve Allen. With an all star cast including Sammy Davis Junior, Sherman Hemsly, Red Buttons, Scott Baio, Imogene Coca, Roddy McDowall, Ringo Starr and more, this tale follows Alice, played by Natalie Gregory, through her adventures in Wonderland as she tries to find her way home.
Why this movie?
In December of 1985 CBS presented a two night event that had everyone glued to their seats. Before the advent of Netfix and binge-watching was a thing, many networks would create a multi night event around a single series or film bringing people back each night for more. Since this was not something people could easily watch when they chose, most of America gathered around the small boxes in their living rooms and watched these event series. From the horror of IT to the alien invasion of V, to the return to classic westerns like The Wild Wild West, these were nights that everyone was excited for and few were caught not participating in the spectacle.
Okay, you like this film, but is it really a ‘good film’?
As kids, we were glued to the screen. This was a magical adventure that frankly we could not get enough of. Alice was going through the very same emotional issues we were facing at the time, specifically not being considered ‘grown up enough’ and that in itself resonated with us. For adults, stars from all over were featured in this film, many that they had grown up with and it was fun just to see where they would show up and if they had a song to sing.
This first part is one of the most commonly told stories in literature with nearly a hundred film and television adaptations in addition to numerous comics, novels, stage productions, and a multitude of works influenced by Lewis Carroll’s classic work. It is as well known as any classic fairy tale but, somehow, this adaptation was able to make the take interesting and fun again. Maybe it was the music, maybe it was the fresh take on the classic tale, but all I know is that it was one of the most impactful films of my youth and one that remains to this day one of my favorites.
Alice is played by Natalie Gregory who does an incredible job at her role. For a child of twelve, she does a great job portraying the young Alice who’s only desire is to be a grown up. Interestingly, there are moments in the film where I always thought her actions were unnecessarily cruel and always wondered why they were included in the story. One such event depicts a giant Alice in the the White Rabbits home. The White Rabbit calls on his friends to help him remove the giant from his abode before she destroys it, but all they do is throw things at her. While they do this, Rabbit’s friend, Bill the Lizard, tries to get in via the chimney. Alice suddenly has a mean steak and punts Bill out of the chimney, causing Bill to fly off to his certain death.
Now, as a kid and even up until recently, I saw this as an odd moment that always bothered me. Why would Alice be so cruel to these creatures that were only trying to protect their home. On my latest viewing, I brought this up to my wife who gave me the first answer that actually made sense. You see, from Alice’s perspective, these animals are attacking her, she is not mature enough to see that she is in fact the one invading their home. So, of course she does everything she can to prevent their success not realizing that she is in fact in the wrong. This was included to show just how immature she is at the early part of the story in her quest to become a grown up. It is moments like this that I realize just how timeless this film is. Not many shows can handle these subtle yet vital points giving the narrative that much more kick.
All in all, this is one of the most enjoyable adaptations of Alice in Wonderland with incredible music, a wonderful cast and, even though it was on a Television budget, the production values are pretty incredible for the standards of 1985. Every song and every cameo from Red Buttons’ portrayal of the White Rabbit to Ringo Starr’s cameo as the Mock Turtle are an incredible delight. Plus, you will never see a better Caterpillar than Sammy Davis Junior. This is one that is sure to have you smiling and singing along in no time.
Be warned though, this is only the first half of a larger story and it is in the end when the Jabberwocky arrives and, as a kid, that was one of the most terrifying moments of television that has stayed with me to this day. While now it is obvious that it is a rather cumbersome suit, this creature was the fuel of nightmares. More on that next week with part two: Through the Looking Glass.
OK, where do I get this movie?
You can pick this one up on disc but be careful, any of the releases before 2006 are edited versions that leave out some key moments from the original broadcast. If you want to get the full experience I recommend the newest restored edition or just watch it on Amazon Prime which is currently the only digital streaming version available.
I couldn’t find a trailer for the film so, here is one of the songs from this installment. Enjoy!
Late To The Game 11/7/2019
Come Back Next week for Part Two!
If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.
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