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Must-See: LACMA Rare Film Series 'Adventures in Wonderland: Alice and Other Lost Girls in Fantastic Worlds'

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood March 22, 2012 at 8:52AM

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.
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LACMA's 'Adventures in Wonderland: Alice and Other Lost Girls in Fantastic Worlds'
LACMA's 'Adventures in Wonderland: Alice and Other Lost Girls in Fantastic Worlds'

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.'"

Mary Blair design for Disney's "Alice in Wonderland"
Mary Blair design for Disney's "Alice in Wonderland"

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.

This article is related to: Classics, LACMA


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.