Every Friday I recommend an entertaining, slow-paced movie from no later than 1985 to help you unwind at the end of the week in our fast-paced world of “Sharknado” releases.
Don’t worry, I’m all for a good bad movie, especially one involving sharks (yes, even grotesquely exaggerated ones) and amusement parks. But sometimes to truly appreciate absurdity, we need to slow it down, and there’s no better time for that than Friday night.
Therefore, my recommendation for this particular day is the 1951 Disney animated adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.”
“Alice in Wonderland” is certainly a kid’s movie in many respects, but this is a great choice for a Friday night for a multitude of reasons.
One thing to immediately get out of the way is that there are some very smart jokes for adults throughout the movie—legitimately smart jokes—and that presence of intelligence still holds up today. Indeed, this movie was in fact ahead of its time, not gaining much momentum until the 1970s. The jokes are structured very well and build, delivering some great payoffs as the movie progresses.
Ironically, although the sense of humor seems at first glance very different from the original “Alice” books, it actually adds to the absurd atmosphere, and could even be interpreted as how Carroll himself might have adapted his books had he been transported forward in time, gotten bored and had time to hang out with Andy Warhol for a little while (if not this version, then the 1981 Russian version is definitely a viable candidate). So this movie is certainly not the Alice books verbatim, but it’s a great adaptation, because it brings its own thoughts to the original books while championing what they stand for.
Another great reason to watch this movie is the depth brought out by the filmmakers through the production design. The atmosphere created by the first-rate line work, motion, overall palette of colors, and music is one of the most vivid and surreal experiences ever brought about by a movie. It seems vast and pensive in its madness, which adds an element right from the books, augmenting and augmented by this movie’s brand of vision—the forests are truly dark, and they bring adventure, but you could get lost within them in more ways than one.
The filmmakers not only did a fantastic job in both literally crafting this film and putting their visual and written talents to great stylistic use for adapting the “Alice” books, but the production also found interesting interpretations of the characters and used the voice actors to such magnificent potential. Each character is wonderfully entertaining in her or his own way to begin with, but they also each have a distinct presence that isn’t taken for granted. Alice, for instance, could have easily been the “straight man” the whole way through, taking the brunt of the jokes before moving on to the next scene, but she has her own idiosyncrasies and relatable thoughts, responses, strengths and flaws—and with what she has to deal with, those moments come out very well! Alice could have also just as easily been a love interest, damsel in distress or warrior, but she is not a gender role. She is just a person, which makes her journey (or lack thereof) more likely to be taken in by the audience, which is especially good because Alice is at her core true to her character in the books.
This version of “Alice in Wonderland” is a very loose adaptation, sticking with the essences of the characters, “plot” and overall spirit of the books, but giving it all more of a “Looney Tunes” feel. The result is a distinctively entertaining adaptation that is frequently absorbing.
And that’s a good movie night.
After all that, if you still need something retro to satisfy your movie appetite until next week, check out my previous recommendations:
“The Brother from Another Planet”
“Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”
“Planet of the Apes”
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”
Let me know what you think of this week’s recommendation and stay tuned!
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