A BBC production broadcast in four parts, this 1986 version of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland begins with the author himself (played by David Leonard) telling Alice and her sister a story. As he does, we learn how Alice (Kate Dorning) spotted a White Rabbit (Jonathan Cecil) and chased him, at which point she fell down a large hole and landed in a strange world. The first thing she notices is the size of her body compared to everything around her, but she's still determined to explore the garden. From there she meets up with some of the animals and has a picnic, and eventually she gets to meet the White Rabbit who refers to her as Mary Ann. To complete the task he assigns her she has to first get free from the house she's trapped in and then have the Caterpillar (Roy Macready) help her get to the proper size for her surroundings.
As she continues to explore this world, she meets the Duchess (Claire Davenport), The Cheshire Cat (Michael Wisher), The Mad Hatter (Pip Donaghy), The March Hare (Neil Fitzwilliam) and The Dormouse (Elisabeth Sladen) and enjoys a tea party. From there, she runs into The Queen of Hearts (Janet Henfrey) and The King (Brian Oulton) and then later The Gryphon (Brian Miller) and The Mock Turtle (Roy Skelton). When she comes across The Knave (Mark Bassenger) on trial for stealing the Queen's tarts, Alice wakes up from what we assume was a dream all along - until Carroll finishes the story for her.
A pretty literal adaptation of the source material, this take on Alice In Wonderland takes plenty of dialogue straight from the book, which gives it a very authentic feel in one regard. At the same time, it was obviously shot fast and without a particularly large budget as the makeup effects are fairly poor, though again, we have to give the production team credit for creating creatures that do look like they wandered out of the original book. The whole thing comes across as very stagey, however. The backgrounds are obviously sets put together quickly and modestly and it all feels very much like a play in spots. That's not to say that it's bad, because it's not, but instead to note that this was obviously done fairly fast and fairly cheap and that it shows.
The cast, however, are likeable enough. Though Kate Dorning very definitely looks to be in her mid-teens here and is, as such, too old for the part in some ways she does make for quite a spirited Alice. David Leonard, whose introductory scenes open each of the four episodes with a sepia toned filter giving them a 'period' feel, does a nice job bookending the material. The supporting cast all do a great job and it's fun seeing Elisabeth Sladen pop up here, best known for her long stint as one of the Doctor's most popular companions, Sarah Jane, on Doctor Who alongside Tom Baker. Michael Wisher as The Cheshire Cat tends to steal most of the scenes that he's involved with, bringing a really strange and genuinely creepy sense of menace to his part that help him make the part his own. Janet Henfrey is decent as The Queen as well, appropriately boisterous when she needs to be and very authoritative in her delivery. Pip Donaghy makes for a weird Mad Hatter, but really, there shouldn't be any other kind.
Despite the fact that it's dated and a bit creaky in terms of its production values, this adaptation of Alice In Wonderland generally works quite well. The musical numbers compliment the story rather than distract from it, and it manages to be both creative and inspired as well as true to the source material at the same time. If you're one of the many fans of Carroll's beloved stories, this is one worth seeing.
Alice In Wonderland is presented in 1.33.1 fullframe and it looks about as good as you'd expect a television series from 1986 to look. Detail is okay considering the source material but things are a bit on the flat side in terms of color reproduction. The source used was in decent enough shape though and the disc is free of authoring issues like compression artifacts or obvious sharpening. All in all, this isn't an amazing picture but it's certainly watchable enough and you definitely do get the impression that they BBC have done the best job they can with the source.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track on the disc, the only audio option available, is reasonably solid but does suffer from occasional instances of level jumping. Thankfully this isn't a constant problem and it can be easily solved by adjusting the volume back and forth a bit - never idea, but hardly the end of the world. Aside from that, the dialogue is easy enough to understand and perfectly clear. There isn't as much depth as a newer movie might offer but there are no problems with hiss or distortion to complain about. Optional English closed captioning is also provided.
Aside from a static menu offering episode selection, there are no extra features on this DVD.
This 1986 made for TV mini-series version of Alice In Wonderland was obviously made without the aid of a massive Hollywood budget - this is obvious throughout pretty much the entire series. It does show some fun and surprisingly creative interpretations on the source, however, and it benefits from a decent cast and a few effective musical numbers. This might not necessarily be the definitive version, but it's fun. The BBC's DVD is devoid of any extras but it looks and sounds quite good for what it is. Recommended for diehard fans, a solid rental for the curious masses.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.