Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972)
Directed by William Sterling

Artistic Value: * *
Entertainment Value: * * ½

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Alice (Fiona Fullerton), a young girl, follows a White Rabbit (Michael Crawford) down his hole and finds herself in a strange land inhabited by such beings as a hookah smoking Caterpillar (Ralph Richardson), a sleepy Dormouse (Dudley Moore), a March Hare (Peter Sellers), a Mad Hatter (Robert Helpmann), a Gryphon (Spike Milligan), a Mock Turtle (Michael Hordern), a Cheshire Cat (Roy Kinnear), and the sadistic Queen of Hearts (Flora Robson).

William Sterling's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is an intermittently enjoyable if deeply flawed film.

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Visually, the movie ranges from charming to atrocious. The sets and costumes used are never realistic and look as though they were designed for a stage production. The effect so achieved is not, unfortunately, invariably successful. Some of the sets, such as a forest of mushrooms, an endless corridor, a beach adorned with precariously leaning boulders shaped like dour faces, a glade of drooping, obviously fake willows, and a wood of frightening, impossibly twisted trees, are lovely, suffusing the tale the director is telling with a strange sense of dreamlike otherworldliness. Other sets, however, including a dreadful cardboard house and a hideous pink pavilion, just lend the film a sense of cheap shoddiness. Sadly, the costumes, which are generally loose, mangy furry pyjamas and caps decorated with cute little ears, plastic snouts, or rubber beaks, the tacky effect of which is supplemented by crudely applied face paint smeared on the actors' cheeks, are consistently unimpressive and make the movie look like the sort of low budget play that some adults appear to think will appeal to children.

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The performances of the actors are similarly inconsistent. Ralph Richardson's brief appearance as the haughty Caterpillar is a pleasure, but many of the players are so smarmy and try so hard to be odd or adorable that they are just irritating to watch. Several others, including Fiona Fullerton, are entirely forgettable.

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Actually, there is little in the film for which it can be unreservedly complimented. The songs are pleasing to hear, but are never inspired and are sometimes intrusive. The events depicted generally follow those described in Carroll's book, although they are frequently given a syrupy coating, and the script, while it incorporates many of the author's own words, loses its appeal both when it is sung and when it veers off into the dull opening and closing sequences that the director has tacked on.

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Despite a number of attractive details, a truly impressive cast, and a skilled composer, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is never a particularly accomplished film. In fact, its shortcomings so weigh it down that it can be annoying.

Review by Keith Allen

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