To coincide with its excellent ongoing women Surrealists exhibit, LACMA will present a truly wondrous series of “Alice in Wonderland” film adaptations and iterations, running April 6 – 14. The films in the program range from classic to obscure, from kid-friendly to trippy. All are rarely screened, and many are gloriously restored 35mm prints.
The best-known of the series, Disney’s 1951 “Alice in Wonderland,” might actually be the hardest to come by on the big screen — the Mouse House notoriously safe-guards its classic animation prints. A psychedelic cartoon odyssey at only 75 minutes, the film’s upside-down logic, wind-up toy sing-songiness and rainbow-bright color palette play well to children. (Disney’s late great Mary Blair helped to design the film.) But the film also has a creepy, hushed quality that gives grown-up viewers a delightful shiver.
Jan Svankmajer’s live-action/stop-motion cult favorite “Alice” is a malevolent, surreal saga. A real-life Alice narrates while toddling through a drab landscape of taxidermied creatures and found objects. The post-Eastern Bloc vibe is queasy — the locations look squalid, and the puppets’ teeth look sharp. Fellow Czech auteur Milos Forman put it best: “Disney + Buñuel = Svankmajer’s ‘Alice.'”
Star-studded, hilarious and whimsical, Norman Z. McLeod’s 1933 “Alice in Wonderland” is the first major talkie adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s tale. A plucky Charlotte Henry (who couldn’t look more like the classical conception of Alice) verbally spars with the likes of turtle-suited Cary Grant, White Knight Gary Cooper and show-stealing W.C. Fields as smarmy egghead Humpty Dumpty. There’s also special effects wizardry involving king and queen chess pieces that come to life. It’s fun.
Other selections include Transylvanian menstrual anxiety allegory “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders,” feminist Czech New Wave milestone (and the only film of the series directed by a woman) “Daisies,” and the little-seen 1948 version of “Alice in Wonderland,” which combines puppetry and live action four decades before Svankmajer would do the same.