Warner Bros. // 2008 // 41 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // March 3rd, 2010
"Do you like fairy tale books?"
The folks at Sesame Street got ahead of the recent Alice in Wonderland bandwagon with a 2008 retelling of Lewis Carroll's classic tale: Abby in Wonderland. The direct-to-DVD special stars one of the long-running kids' series newest Muppets, alongside some of the Street's best-known residents. Like the show that spawned it, this DVD pairs colorful settings with a healthy helping of education. Whether they're familiar with the source material or not, the story and characters should keep kids engaged, all without making parents want to dive into the nearest rabbit hole.
Abby Cadabby, added to the Sesame Street family back in 2006, is a fairy-in-training, complete with wings and a magic wand. In that short time, she has become popular enough to get her own balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and a guest spot as "Person of the Week" on ABC World News Tonight. After sharing the spotlight with her pal Elmo on several other DVD releases, Abby in Wonderland marks her first starring role.
The story begins with Abby gathering a collection of fairy tales -- her favorite kind of stories -- and wishing she could have a fairy tale of her own. Elmo happens by and offers to tell her one of his favorite stories: Alice in Wonderland. Not long after he begins, however, Abby falls asleep and wakes to find that Elmo has turned into a red rabbit with a waistcoat and watch. He runs off and she follows him down through a hole that leads to Wonderland. The scampering Elmo doesn't realize that her wand has fallen into his back pocket, and Abby must chase after him to get it back. Along the way, she encounters a tiny door that can only be opened with the help of a magic milk bottle, a talking flower and its "Counterpillar" companion, the disappearing/reappearing Cheshire Cookie Cat, a Hatter hosting a "T" party, who's mad because his hat doesn't fit right, and the Grouch of Hearts -- a nasty fellow who refuses to return Abby's most prized possession.
The real Alice in Wonderland is kooky and fanciful, but also a little creepy. This version polishes the rough edges of the original, sanitizing some of the weirdness and removing any real sense of danger. No one threatens to cut off Abby's head; her plunge into Wonderland is accompanied by giggles rather than screams; and any anxiety that might go along with her being lost in a strange place is undercut by the knowledge that it's all happening in a dream. There's certainly a place for "scary" children's stories (parts of the original Alice included), just not on Sesame Street.
Along with lessons about rhyming, counting, and words that begin with "T," Abby in Wonderland teaches kids that being "little" is okay. At the beginning of the story, Abby can't wait to grow up. In Wonderland, she finds out that being small has its advantages. And when Oscar -- taking the lone bad-guy role as the Grouch of Hearts -- tries to push her around because she's little, she turns the tables on him and ultimately wins the day.
Abby in Wonderland may be for kids, but there are jokes for adults as well. In the briefest of scenes, Ernie -- dressed as Tweedledum to his pal's Tweedledee -- explains to Bert that, despite popular misconception, they're not actually in this story. The songs in the special, written by Mark Radice, are bright and fun, though they don't quite live up to the best tunes Sesame Street has to offer.
Abby in Wonderland is presented in full screen, with a stereo soundtrack in both English and Spanish. Although it isn't listed on the box, the DVD I reviewed also came with a bonus CD with five random Sesame Street songs from the '70s and early '80s: "Ladybugs' Picnic," "Dance Myself to Sleep," "Fuzzy and Blue," "What's the Name of That Song?," and "Proud of Me." There are no bonus features on the disc.
It's been a long time since I've watched Sesame Street. My memories of the show all center around series mainstays like The Count, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie. Although I love those characters dearly, I'm glad to see the Street get some new blood -- er...felt? Abby fills a gap on the show, speaking directly to the young female audience my daughter will one day be part of. I look forward to showing her Abby in Wonderland when that day comes.
There are a lot of bad remakes of Alice in Wonderland. This isn't one of them. Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2010 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 41 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site