November 27th, 2015

Queen Alice

Alice's List

All right, as more or less promised, and since I must do more to honour the 150th anniversary of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, here is my ranking, from worst to best, of every adaptation I've seen of the books for television or cinema. It's been a goal of mine for years to see every adaptation. I still have a long way to go on that--there are so many and some are very hard to find. Also, some look so bad it's hard to muster the stamina to sit through them. For example, the SyFy channel miniseries from 2009, which I've seen enough of to never, ever want to see any more.

To preface, here's something I wrote in a 2013 entry:

I was thinking yesterday about what the Alice stories mean to people who adapt them. They almost never seem to get past square one, adaptations usually featuring scene after scene that seems ultimately to say, "Look how weird!" And then the filmmakers insert their own ideas for the meat of the story. Gulliver's Travels seems to suffer from the same thing. It's true in both cases a lot of the delight in reading the books is in wondering at the strangeness of the situations and places. In the case of the Alice books, it's also true a lot of the delight is in at turns sympathising with and adoring Alice's frustrations and interpretations. But I feel like most people adapting the books are primarily digesting them as things fascinating for their inscrutability, useful as backdrop but hardly substantial as stories in themselves.

11. Alice in Wonderland 2010 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

By a large margin the worst of the Alice in Wonderland movies I've seen but not without its virtues including a beautifully costumed Anne Hathaway and . . . let me think. Some nice supporting performances. Alan Rickman would've been especially great as the Caterpillar if it had physically resembled him but as it is his voice goes a long way. Depp's not as bad as you'd think as the Hatter.

Mostly, though, contemplating the film's celebration of war and capitalism in contrast to the original story's parody of manners, honour, and gentle hearted rebuke of the adult world makes me feel instantly depressed.

10. Alice in Wonderland 1985 my review)

This TV movie is much better as a distant memory than something actually watched. Dim childhood memories told me it was slightly scary and charming. Watching it a couple years ago, I found just a typical, 70s or 80s TV holiday special consisting of endless awkward celebrity guests, much akin to the Star Wars Holiday Special.

9. Alice in Wonderland 1933(Wikipedia Entry, my review)

More of a curiosity than anything with a shrill young American actress as Alice. But I'd recommend it just for Gary Cooper's gentle, slightly heart breaking portrayal of the White Knight.

8. Dreamchild 1985 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

For the most part having surprisingly little to do with Alice or Lewis Carroll, this film about Carroll and the real life inspiration for Alice, Alice Liddell, has some amazing renderings of scenes from the books with puppets by Jim Henson. Unfortunately these scenes occupy only about 15% of the film, the rest of which consists of a run of the mill romantic comedy with not especially profound speculations about Carroll's infatuation with Liddell in the background. Though Ian Holm as Carroll is quite good.

7. Alice in Wonderland 1903 (Wikipedia Entry)

Presented in its entirety above, this one is more fascinating for its visual record of people performing Alice in 1903. The special effects are impressive and filled with charm as are the quick mannerisms of the performers.

6. Alice Through the Looking Glass 1998 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

The sadly squandered talents of the very sexy Kate Beckinsale are put to use here playing an adult Alice in a perfectly decent adaptation of the second book accompanied by several great supporting performances delivering lines straight from the book. Holm plays the White Knight here, rather appropriately, perhaps, if we consider the theory that the White Knight is an avatar of Carroll. Still, he's not as effective as Gary Cooper in the role, though almost everything else about this film is better than the 1933 film.

5. Alice in Wonderland 1976 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

The infamous porn musical version, I strongly suspect the makers of this one never read the books but the film is quite unique--and that's saying something. As many have remarked, it is much better than porn typically tends to be with genuinely effective performances and some actually witty subtext.

4. Alice in Wonderland 1949 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

Despite an unfortunate use of allegory, a tedious attempt to turn the characters of the book into code versions of people in Lewis Carroll's life, this version has some wonderful stop motion animation and a beautiful colour palette.

3. Alice in Wonderland 1966 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

Everyone I've shown this version to has hated it but I absolutely love it. The lead's sullen, sleep walker performance as Alice is the one of the few consistent and intriguing portrayals of the character I've seen and the black and white photography--shot on film despite being made for the BBC in the 60s--is moody and gorgeous, the film generally giving the impression of a mad house. Peter Cook's turn as the Mad Hatter is one of my absolute favourites and John Gielgud is the best Mock Turtle of all time.

2. Alice in Wonderland 1951 (Wikipedia Entry)

Walt Disney himself felt there were too many cooks in the kitchen on this one with the unfortunate result that Alice herself fails to emerge as much of a character. However, when watched as a series of shorts--and you might as well because there's a new director every five minutes--it's brilliant. Featuring an unprecedented number of really great songs--more than thirty!--some absolutely beautiful animation and several wonderful supporting performances, including Ed Wynn as the definitive Mad Hatter.

1. Alice 1988 (Wikipedia Entry, my review)

This one's the best of both worlds--reflecting a real understanding of the philosophy behind the books and bringing its own vision to the table, a perspective on Alice as hunter. This has satire sharp as claws, eerie stop motion animation, and an extremely effective, very natural lead performance. No one has come close to topping this adaptation.