Through the looking glass: Alice's adventures in film

By Chris Vander Kaay

By Kathleen Vander Kaay

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Oct. 10 2013 4:00 p.m. MDT

Johnny Depp in "Alice in Wonderland."

Disney Enterprises Inc.

Enlarge photo»

Ever since MacMillan and Company published Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” in 1865, the world has been revisiting Wonderland in one way or another.

Common expressions of confusion or surrealism such as "down the rabbit hole" and "through the looking glass" come from Carroll’s work. Grace Slick, the lead singer of Jefferson Airplane, spoke in a Wall Street Journal interview about a long infatuation with the story that led to the song “White Rabbit.” And the influence has even seeped into other iconic figures of the modern era, inspiring the creation of one of Batman’s arch-villains, The Mad Hatter.

However, one of the art forms most often influenced by Carroll’s book is film. With a history that starts all the way back in 1903 with a short silent film version, Alice has spent as much time on the silver screen as she has in Wonderland or through the looking glass.

A new version of the story can be seen in a spin-off of the popular series “Once Upon a Time,” focused on Wonderland, premiering on ABC on Oct. 10. Here is a quick journey through the numerous adventures based on or inspired by the classic children’s fantasy book:

'Alice In Wonderland' (1951)

One of the most well-known of the films bringing Carroll’s book to life, this animated feature film from Walt Disney is ironically not even the first attempt that Disney had taken at the material. Back in 1923, before Walt Disney had become the king of animation, he created a series of short films now called the Alice Comedies, which followed a live-action girl named Alice having adventures in an animated land. The first of those films was a loose adaptation of the Carroll story. Disney revisited the same territory later, when in 1936 he produced a Mickey Mouse cartoon called “Thru the Mirror.” And finally, in 1951, still at the peak of his influence on the culture, Disney recruited distinctive personalities like Ed Wynn and Sterling Holloway to bring the story to life in a feature film.

'Dreamchild' (1985)

Though not as wildly nonsensical as the book itself, the story of Carroll’s inspiration for writing “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” is quite a story itself, and it is given an interesting spin in “Dreamchild.” Though largely fictional, it uses the names of the real people who created the book, Carroll and his inspiration, young Alice Liddell, to tell a dark story of an elderly Alice looking back on her life and being visited by the iconic characters once again. With character designs by The Jim Henson Co. and a strong performance from Ian Holm as Carroll, this film is an interesting oddity from Dennis Potter, the writer who created the original British versions of the musicals “Pennies From Heaven” and “The Singing Detective.”

'Alice' (1988)

One of the most surreal and mind-blowing versions of the story, “Alice” was written and directed by Jan Svankmajer, a Russian artist who made many stop-motion animated short films before creating this feature-length nightmare that features taxidermy animals coming to life. While this is a much darker take than usually seen in film, director Svankmajer said in an interview with Electric Sheep magazine that “So far all adaptations of Alice (including the latest by Tim Burton) present it as a fairy tale, but Carroll wrote it as a dream. And between a dream and a fairy tale there is a fundamental difference.” Svankmajer’s goal of creating a film with a dreamy, atmospheric mood was certainly achieved.

'Alice in Wonderland' (1999)

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