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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Which Way? Alice in Wonderland film adaptations

Updated: May 5, 2023

150 years ago, people read for the first time Alice’s immortal line “And what is the use of a book, without pictures or conversation?” How she would have loved the movies!

On Saturday 23 May 2015 I'll be giving a paper at the Wonderlands: Reading/Writing/Telling Fairy Tales and Fantasy symposium at University of Chichester, organised by the Sussex Centre of Folklore, Fairy Tale and Fantasy.You can see all the presentations from the Wonderlands conference here.

I'll be talking about how three filmmakers have translated Alice from page to screen: Disney (1951), Svankmajer (1988) and Burton (2010).

In 1903 filmmakers began making narrative films, and in that year, Carroll’s Alice made her first film appearance in Britain’s longest running film to date. Over the next 110+ years Alice and her adventures would become a staple source for film and TV. There have been over hundreds of film/TV versions of this classic. It has been re-told by countless directors many with all-star casts. In 1933 you could have seen Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle, in 1966 John Gielgud and in 1999 Gene Wilder.

Alice has been referenced in cult films and TV such as The Matrix, Lost, Star Trek and The Simpsons. Screenwritiers find news ways of returning to this childhood-classic. Danny Dyer starred in a gangster fantasy version Malice in Wonderland (2009) and in the forthcoming horror film Red Kingdom Rising.

I will be exploring how three auteurs (Disney, Svankmajer and Burton) took the same scene (The Mad Tea Party) from the novel and translated it to film. Through this gaining an understanding of how the director's vision shaped the look and feel of a film.

I chose these three, as they are creative filmmakers who are drawn to the surreal - which can be seen across their body of work. Therefore, it is interesting to see how they adapted the surrealist sensibilities of the original, whilst echoing their individual relationship with the alchemy of cinema and the art of illusion.

Have a look... What do you think? Tweet me @cheshellen

Update: A year or two later I re-worked this paper into an essay, which I added as a blog you can read them here.

Tim Burton (2010)

Walt Disney - d. Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske (1951)

Jan Svankmajer (1988)

You might also want to check out the first film version, Cecil Hepworth's 1903 Alice

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