Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Truly democratic: Special Movie Review of the Alice in Wonderland Collection by Robert Steven Mack

As we come to the final round of excitement of the new “Alice in Wonderland” film, I have decided that I shall review more film versions based on Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its timeless sequel Through the Looking Glass. Not surprisingly, this film historical treasure chest has so far been overshadowed by the 1951 animated classic film adaptation produced by Walt Disney who had great admiration for both Lewis Carroll and his two unforgettable novels.

However, Walt Disney was not the only movie maker that was enchanted by Lewis Carroll’s whimsical literature. In fact, the earliest known film version of Alice in Wonderland was produced in 1903 and was just 8 minutes long. Dozens of film, television, and stage adaptations have been created since then. Thanks to the recent release of the new film starring Johnny Depp, a variety of hitherto obscure and unknown treasures of movie history have been released on DVD.

The Alice in Wonderland Classic Film Collection - now in stores - displays fine examples of these films. It is a marvelous collection of art, entertainment, and movie magic. It starts out with a 1915 silent version, which coincidentally was the first feature length adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The film is done with spirit and an almost amateurish style as exemplified by the stage-like look of the scene where Alice comes through the three doors covered by curtains and the stool that holds the key. The surrounding of the scene looks like the back lot of a stage. Other signs of early film making techniques are the size of the trees vis-à-vis the giant mushrooms. Alice appears to be the size of a caterpillar and no taller than a mushroom. The trees in the background are of regular size. Filming wherever they could and just adding a touch of Alice to their chosen surrounding was the simple thing to do for this picture. The pastures, the beaches, the non-professional style of this film may prove what it says on the back cover of the DVD box: “Produced long before CGI, the creatures are all costumed actors and the absence in dialogue creates a surreal, dream-like quality.” In other words, the apparently mundane surroundings as described above may be that of places where Alice has visited in the past, with a sprinkle of Wonderland added!

This early movie is strong evidence and supports the idea that anyone can produce an Alice in Wonderland film. All you really need is some costumes, a few set pieces, and a touch of imagination! This movie was directed by W. W. Yough stars Viola Savoy along with Elmo Lincoln, starring as the first Tarzan in Tarzan of the Apes in 1918. Granted, this film may seem boring and non-significant to movie goers who are not yet familiar with the silent film Tarzan, it is a must-see treasure for any film historian!
The 1915 Alice in Wonderland version is followed by two 7-minutes animated shorts from the original Walt Disney Alice in Cartoonland, produced and directed by Walt Disney in 1925. These short films, generally referred to as an Alice Comedy series, star four-year-old Virginia Davis and Margie Gray respectively in their portrayal of Alice. These two girls are acting, or “pretending” as Walt Disney called it, in front of a white screen with animation added in later. Both shorts follow the adventures of Alice and her hot-tempered, mischievous cat battling the hilarious dunderheads of Cartoonland. It is rumored that the animation in these shorts particularly the first, Rattled by Rats, inspired the evolution of Mickey Mouse and possibly other classic cartoon characters!

Next in the collection comes an animated joyful semi sequel to the original Alice in Wonderland story called Alice of Wonderland in Paris. The story follows Alice, now quite famous for her adventures in Wonderland and dreaming of the adventures that story book heroine Madeline has. With the help of a kind mouse by the name of Francoise she travels to Paris in hopes of meeting Madeline. While Alice dreams of being Madeline, it turns out Madeline dreams of being Alice! Featuring a collection of classic childhood stories, such as “Madeline and the Gipsies “ and “Many Moons” this is a witty and enchanting tale featuring French animation and the voices of Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. Who could ask for anything more! Numerous other films were made, and have yet to be made. Watching more film versions is something that I deeply look forward to doing , for many people have gone through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole to true enchantment with the books, the movies, stage and television adaptations of Alice in Wonderland and have been brought to millions of people all over the world.

It is a wonder that not more Alice Comedies have been released on a DVD collection of their own for they would be a fine addition to this collection. In any event, these comedies will bring joy to you and your family at any time!

Robert Steven Mack's movie ratings from scale of 1-100: 1915 silent movie: 93/100; two Disney shorts: 95/100; Alice in Wonderland in Paris: 95/100

copyright 2010 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved)

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