Our Judge Cynthia Boris carefully avoided any suspicious bottles labeled "Drink Me" during the writing of this review.
Our reviews of Alice In Wonderland (1933) (published February 25th, 2010), Alice In Wonderland (1951) (Blu-Ray) (published January 30th, 2011), Alice In Wonderland (1951): Unanniversary Edition (published April 8th, 2010), Alice In Wonderland (1966) (published November 24th, 2003), Alice In Wonderland (1966) (published March 8th, 2010), Alice in Wonderland (1976) (published March 11th, 2011), Alice in Wonderland (1986) (published April 4th, 2013), Alice In Wonderland (1999) (published September 23rd, 1999), Alice In Wonderland (2010) (Blu-Ray) (published June 1st, 2010), and Alice In Wonderland (1951) (published February 14th, 2004) are also available.
"Curiouser and curiouser!"
IMDb has seventeen English-language versions of Alice in Wonderland listed in their database, eight of which were made specifically for TV and one that dates back to 1903 (which I believe pre-dates TV). Several of the TV versions are blockbuster all-star events sporting a range of stars from Elsa Lanchester as the Red Queen in 1955 to Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat in 1999. However, no adaptation beats the cast Irwin Allen assembled in 1985 for his multi-night powerhouse boasting the talents of Sammy Davis Jr., Ringo Starr, Donald O'Connor, Sid Caesar and more. Time to take a trip down the rabbit hole with Irwin Allen's Alice in Wonderland.
Facts of the Case
Bored little girl with blonde hair and a pinafore chases rabbit down a hole and ends up in a world of strange creatures, violent murderers (come on, how many people does the queen behead?) and more drug references than a weekend at Woodstock. It's classic Alice, and if Disney can pass this off as a kid's story, Irwin Allen can, too!
In the 1960s, Irwin Allen was king of sci-fi on TV. He created and helmed four hit series including Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. In the 1970s he became the Master of Disaster, producing films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. In the 1980s diversification was Allen's watchword as he produced and created a variety of projects including the family fireman drama Code Red, and the haunting TV movie The Memory of Eva Ryker. In 1985, however, Allen did something no one could have predicted—he produced a big budget, all-star version of the classic story Alice in Wonderland. While many people see this as a low point in Allen's career, there's just too much of the man himself in the project to dismiss it so lightly. It was his second-to-last project before his death in 1991 and a much better final note than the courtroom drama Outrage which was his last official project.
Now anyone who's ever read my reviews knows that I'm a huge fan of Irwin Allen, and personally, I find this project befitting of his talents. Like his blockbuster disaster films, Alice in Wonderland is filled with the best Hollywood has to offer, and I'm not talking about Scott Baio as Pat the Guinea Pig. I'm talking about Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows. Did I hear you just say, "who?" Shame on you! Okay, how about Sammy Davis Jr. as the caterpillar, Roddy McDowall as the March Hare, and Ringo Starr as the Mock Turtle. There are more than thirty name stars in this production, most of whom have roots that go back to the Golden Age of Television—where else are you going to see that kind of talent all in one place?
For those of you who are fans of Allen's sci-fi series, you'll find plenty of fan winks, too. The colors, costumes and sets are all classic Allen fantasy style and if you look closely you'll see some familiar faces such as Don Matheson (Land of the Giants) and Patrick Culliton (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea).
The DVD itself is about as basic as you can get. The video and sound quality are very good but there are no extras and nothing fancy about the packaging.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Irwin Allen's Alice in Wonderland sticks very close to the original book by Lewis Carroll, and that, in my opinion, is its major downfall. The movie is slow moving at times and gets bogged down in Carroll's nonsense prose, much of which could have been cut and never missed.
Casting-wise, I object to what was an obvious attempt to promote CBS's TV shows by miscasting John Stamos (coming off the short lived CBS series Dreams) and Donna Mills, and, oh my, Telly Savalas (Kojak) as the Cheshire Cat.
This version of the story is also a musical and even though the music was written by the brilliant Steve Allen, most of it falls flat here. I don't know why. It's just not melodic or memorable in a Disney / Phil Collins sort of way.
Kids' movie? Maybe. Your child might find it interesting in its wackiness but I doubt they'd sit through the whole movie without once hitting the fast forward button.
Grown up movie? Maybe. If you're a fan of the Golden Age of Television, you should definitely check this out. There are performances here that are not to be missed, Sammy Davis Jr. for one, and the entire tea party scene with Anthony Newley, Roddy McDowall, and Arte Johnson is a real gem.
Irwin Allen fan? You have to own it. It's part of the master's volume of work and you'll love seeing the litany of familiar names in the credits including director Harry Harris and costumes by the unparalleled Paul Z.
By royal decree, Alice in Wonderland should be seen by everyone in the kingdom. If anyone scoffs, then off with their heads! The Queen has spoken!
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