What wonders will we behold in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland? We’ve already been teased with photos and rumors, all unnecessary since I’ve been ready to buy tickets for a year. Do you think it will be marked by innocence? Will it be whimsical?
Timed to coincide with the mounting anticipation of Tim Burton’s March 5 release, a 1966 television special, Alice Through the Looking Glass will hit DVD shelves on February 9. It is billed as a “great companion piece” to both the Burton film and SyFy’s Alice, however Alice Through the Looking Glass is an innocent production that hearkens back to a less complicated era. Only one costume change, few special effects, a small budget, and an innocuous script come together to provide typical '60s family TV entertainment.
Although a television offering, Alice Through the Looking Glass is like a stage play that would be more entertaining live. The music is reminiscent of Disney princess movies of that era, but this is not like Disney’s Alice. Instead it is almost vaudevillian in aspect, abetted by Bob Mackie’s costume designs. The acting is broad and obvious, exclamatory and flamboyant. Together with the minimal sets, the action comes across like a cartoon. Watching silly adults romp and play is bound to be an audience pleaser with the very young set. Fortunately, director Alan Handley, who won the 1967 Director’s Guild Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Television Award for this production, did not shy away from slapstick. These elements appeal to young children, and will also appeal to nostalgic adults.
I had forgotten that I saw Alice Through the Looking Glass on television in 1966. When I realized this was the show with the Smothers Brothers as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, I remembered it. Tom and Dick Smothers' performance was typical of their comedy routines and probably included to appeal to a younger audience that might not be attracted by stars Nanette Fabray, the great Agnes Moorehead, Jimmy Durante, and Ricardo Montalban. Strangely, Alice wasn’t portrayed by a child but by then 20-year-old Judi Rolin. Scene-stealing was capably handled by Jack Palance as the Jabberwock, whose costume could serve as a Bob Mackie prototype, though the wobbly horns were a bit off-putting.
Fans of the '60s will enjoy seeing familiar faces; fans of Lewis Carroll may not enjoy this interpretation which, at best, is loosely based on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The inoffensive songs have some clever lyrics, but are not memorable. Tony Charmoli’s choreography brings back memories of work he’d done on Lidsville and The Bugaloos — sometimes chaotic, sometimes serviceable, seldom remarkable. If watched in the context of the '60s, this Alice provides pleasant but superficial entertainment.
The DVD's one special feature is a very short montage of snippets from an interview with producer Bob Wynn, comprised of comments on his career from his homeless days in the rodeo to Hollywood. He also discusses Judy Garland’s gas-passing lessons, the sweet side of Sammy Davis, Jr., an uncooperative Frank Sinatra, Tennessee Ernie Ford in Russia, “Real People,” and a host of other topics including how he met his wife.
Bottom line: would I buy the DVD? Sorry, no, but if it was a Netflix offering, I might rent it for nostalgia’s sake. However, I would buy it if I had a four-year-old granddaughter.
Note: The Amazon product accompanying this article is for the older VHS release of Alice Through the Looking Glass. The DVD has not yet been included in Amazon’s inventory; the VHS tape is no longer available.