Alice in Wonderland: Detroit News Article

Alice in Wonderland: Detroit News Article

From 2-27-99

Alice finds Carroll's 'Wonderland' on NBC

By Matt Wolf / Associated Press

LONDON -- Martin Short is known for being a funny man, but one particular day last summer on a sound stage just west of London, it was his get-up that was prompting smiles.

Playing the Mad Hatter in a new TV movie of Alice in Wonderland, Short, who had spent more than two hours getting into his costume and makeup, was a huge-eared, striped figure of delight.

Alice in Wonderland is a 134-year-old tale that remains compelling both to wide-eyed children and their Freudian-minded parents -- "the closest thing I can think of in literature that delves into a childhood nightmare," Short said. "Things become so blatant, and yet Alice remains so calm, as if nothing has happened. Just as in dreams, her reaction to a lot of the story is whimsical."

This newest version of Lewis Carroll's 1865 classic has its TV premiere Sunday at 8 p.m. on NBC (Channel 4 in Detroit). Besides Short, the Hallmark Entertainment production stars Miranda Richardson as the Queen of Hearts, Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat and 13-year-old Tina Majorino, who co-starred with Goldberg in Corrina, Corrina, in the title role.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are the intriguing double-act of Britain's Robbie Coltrane (Cracker) and George Wendt (Cheers), while the Walrus and the Carpenter are Academy Award-winner Peter Ustinov and Pete Postlethwaite (The Lost World: Jurassic Park).

The $21-million TV movie is the latest in a seemingly unstoppable flow of programing from Robert Halmi Sr., the 75-year-old executive producer whose other recent ventures include a live-action Animal Farm, to be shown on TNT in October, as well as Merlin and The Odyssey. His son, Robert Halmi Jr., is co-producer and president of Hallmark Entertainment.

"All my shows are fantasies and dreams, and I have to raise the bar a little bit with every project," Halmi said, speaking softly so as not to interrupt filming a few feet away.

With each of his TV adaptations, the Emmy Award-winning Gulliver's Travels in 1997 included, "we have to make it that much better," said Halmi.

Alice, he said, is "a story that has never before been told right."

Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass were written for children, but are often best enjoyed by grown-ups who find powerful messages in their hallucinatory dream logic.

"People think Lewis Carroll must have been on drugs, that he had ulterior motives -- none of which is true," the show's English director Nick Willing said. "It's very sad to say, 'Oh, we can't possibly just be that imaginative; we have to take drugs.' "

The story in any case allows for visual treats, whether re-creating creatures like the Mad March Hare and a huge-winged griffin, or building a courtroom set whose enlarged castle of playing cards at the climax comes crashing down.

And what of Alice herself?

"She's the only sane character in this insane world," said Willing, who praised Tina Majorino, his young American lead. "At 13, Tina was already self-possessed to know what she had to do," he said.

That included making sure her lines were delivered in keeping with the period. "I can't say 'um,' 'like,' 'uh' -- well you can actually get away with 'uh': hesitation's OK," said Tina during a break from algebra homework.

The actress had also been working to straighten her "very laid-back, hunched-over" American posture into line with the more stiff-backed Victorian era.

Neither Tina nor her director doubted that the story itself would live on.

"People can relate to it," said the star, even if "it's more surreal than any dream people would have."

"I don't know that you ever fully understand Alice," said Willing. "Part of the beauty of the material is that it remains a cryptic puzzle."

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