Monday, December 24, 2007

Alice in Disneyland

For Boomers, Alice in Wonderland became associated with Christmas through the good offices of Walt Disney. Even before his animated movie version was completed, he showed a scene from it as part of his Christmas television special in 1950, co-hosted by the young Kathyrn Beaumont, who provided Alice's voice in the film. When his Disneyland show became a weekly series, he featured an hour version of the movie as his Christmas shows in 1954 and again in 1964.

All this is revealed on the two disk DVD of the Disney movie, still the best known dramatization of Alice. Moreover, the digitized DVD version reveals its breathtaking use of color, and of course the kind of sumptuous and witty animation that just isn't done anymore. (The people who made Yellow Submarine must have watched it many times.)

Since then, Alice's adventures have been dramatized many times in the movies and on TV. The usual practice was to fill the numerous but relatively small roles with the name actors and comics of the day. A surprising number of these Alices are available on DVD. For instance:

Jonathan Miller did a 1966 television version with Peter Sellers, John Gielgud and music by Ravi Shankar. Ralph Richardson and Michael Crawford were in a 1972 film, with Alice played by the future "Bond girl," Fiona Fullerton.

There was a 1985 version, scripted by Paul Zindel and with music by Steve Allen, that featured Donald O'Connor, Martha Raye, Telly Savalas, Shelley Winters, Sid Caesar and Ringo Starr. Kate Burton was a charming Alice in her first credited role in 1983, co-starring with her father, Richard Burton, as well as Nathan Lane and Maureen Stapleton.

And a 1999 TV movie featured Martin Short, Robbie Coltrane, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lloyd and Miranda Richardson with Jim Henson's puppets.

By now, Alice is seen on stage (in ballets, musicals and stage plays) around the country at Christmastime. But for my money, that Disney DVD is still the best.

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