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Alice's Adventures In Wonderland
cast: Fiona Fullerton, Peter Sellers, Ralph Richardson, Dudley Moore, and Spike Milligan

director: William Sterling

92 minutes (U) 1972 widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Oracle DVD Region 0 retail [released 25 April]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Andrew Hook
I remember watching this musical on television in the late 1970s and, being on the cusp of puberty at the time, fell utterly in love with 15-year old Fiona Fullerton. Her portrayal of Alice as a girl, who, despite her curious adventures, takes no nonsense from anyone, is quite remarkable given her years and she steals the film scene by scene. However, despite the supporting ensemble of accomplished actors this movie is a very bitty affair and the episodic nature of Alice's adventures dissipates the linear narrative, breaking up any tension within the film. As the script is largely faithful to Lewis Carroll's book, this problem doesn't lie solely with the director; Disney's 1951 adaptation also suffers from the same difficulties in my opinion. I simply think the book doesn't adapt well to the cinematic format.

We all know the story of course... Alice (Fullerton) falls asleep whilst on a picnic and follows the White Rabbit (Michael Crawford) into a hole, whereupon reality is turned upside-down. Alice encounters a wide variety of talking animals and weird characters who constantly confound her, yet she gamely shrugs them off and eventually awakes to find it has all been a dream. Whilst dreaming a plot might seem turgid nowadays, the book was written in 1862, and it does form an interesting framing device to the tale.

This production has a very theatrical feel to it, with Alice's wanderings from one scene to another quite conventional and not particularly fluid. The smattering of songs (composed by John Barry and Don Black) adds to this impression. Despite this, the segments where Alice either shrinks smaller than or grows larger than the set are cleverly handled and quite believable.
Alice at the tea party
The costumes are excellent, so much so that the Who's Who roll-call of 1970s' British entertainment are not constrained by familiarity, and they all adapt themselves admirably behind their masks. Spike Milligan as the Gryphon and Michael Hordern as the Mock Turtle are particularly interesting to watch, as they cavort about the stage in the latter stages of the film during the Lobster Quadrille. The Mad Hatter's tea party is quite refined in comparison, not quite as manic as it could be; which is surprising since Peter Sellers plays the March Hare to Robert Helpmann's Hatter. (As an aside I've always thought that John Lydon would make a perfect Mad Hatter, but I doubt that day will ever dawn!)

Obviously a lot of work and love went into the movie, but disappointingly the film has little dramatic impetus due to its sketch-like structure, and the final trial is quite tedious to sit through (although the dialogue is exactly as Lewis Carroll wrote it). I watched this with my five and a half year old, and she was getting extremely impatient and bored towards the end. Perhaps in a movie where surrealism dominates (with Alice being the only anchor to reality - her droll quips expressed most beautifully), the nonsensicality of the plot must ultimately undermine itself. Nevertheless, for Fullerton's performance, some of the set pieces, and the costumes, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland is worth watching at least once in a lifetime.

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