Alice in Wonderland: New York Daily News Articles

Alice in Wonderland: New York Daily News Articles

Through a Looking Glass . . . Smartly
Computer FX, good acting bring NBC's 'Alice' to life


It has taken more than a century, but technology finally has caught up with the fertile imagination of Lewis Carroll.

Sunday's "Alice in Wonderland," NBC's new three-hour telemovie adaptation (at 8) of Carroll's famous "Alice" books, re-creates in three dimensions all the reality-bending craziness of Carroll's stories and John Tenniel's illustrations. Thanks to state-of-the-art computer graphic effects and high-tech puppeteering, everything comes wonderfully to life, from flamingos used as croquet mallets to smoking caterpillars and huge-headed Mad Hatters.

Peter Barnes, who also wrote NBC's "Merlin" miniseries for executive producer Robert Halmi Jr., has adapted the two "Alice" books 1865's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and 1871's "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There" by faithfully dramatizing the former and borrowing selected characters and scenes from the latter.

What's missing in this TV version are Humpty Dumpty, Alice being crowned Queen, and one truly regrettable omission: the "Jabberwocky" poem, one of the most famous verses written by Carroll (real name: Charles L. Dodgson).

This new "Alice" is so enchanting, though, that not even that oversight nor its other flaw, the unimaginative music by Richard Hartley can rob this NBC treat of its four-star rating.

Director Nick Willing, working with visual effects supervisor David Booth, production designer Roger Hall and Jim Henson's Creature Shop, has created the ideal world in which prim young Alice (Tina Majorino, from "Andre" and "Waterworld") finds herself. It's a world populated by familiar and talented performers, all of whom rise to the occasion beautifully.

Especially delightful are Martin Short as the Mad Hatter, Miranda Richardson as the Queen of Hearts and Christopher Lloyd as the White Knight. Peter Ustinov as the Walrus, Gene Wilder as the Mock Turtle, Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat and Robbie Coltrane and George Wendt as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, also make the most of their brief appearances.

This "Alice," which isn't really a musical, relies faithfully on the original Carroll text, pulling dialogue and action as well as poetry and visuals. Like the original, it embraces both logic and absurdity with equal fervor, and captures a dreamlike feeling in ways unlikely to be forgotten.

If you stay just long enough to fall down the rabbit hole with Alice, you'll know you're in for a truly special TV journey.

'Alice' Glitters With Stars

Daily News Staff Writer

It seems so appropriate that Gene Wilder, who wowed millions of children and adults as the dream weaver in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," picks his roles only when and if a bell goes off in his head.

Believe it. Wilder, who has generated yuks with the likes of Richard Pryor ("Silver Streak," "Stir Crazy"), and also played his share of serious roles, relies on an instinct that so far hasn't proven wrong.

"Everything I do, in the last, I don't know how many years," he says, "I've done because a bell goes off. When the bell goes off, I say, 'That's for me.' When I'm doing what I really know I should be doing with my life and my work, it's a feeling of satisfaction."

The bell rang loud and clear when he picked up a script for tonight's NBC remake of "Alice in Wonderland," which stars Tina Majorino in the title role.

Wilder plays the Mock Turtle, half man, half turtle. "He sings and dances, it's made for me," he says. "It didn't matter how big or small. I said, 'That's my part. It's my kind of stuff.' "

The three-hour family film is based on Lewis Carroll's classic tale of a young girl's adventure into a fantastical land.

Alice's fears about singing in public launch her on her journey to Wonderland, populated by such characters as the mischievous Cheshire Cat (Whoopi Goldberg), Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Robbie Coltrane and George Wendt, respectively), the White Knight (Christopher Lloyd), a self-important Walrus (Peter Ustinov), a rude Caterpillar (Ben Kingsley), the Mad Hatter (Martin Short) and the Queen of Hearts (Miranda Richardson), among others.

"I think the heart of this story," says Majorino, "is to be fearless. To not be afraid of doing things to face your fears. The whole heart in this version of 'Alice' is to believe in yourself. . . . It's such an ageless story; it grows with you as you grow older."

Wilder agrees, and then some.

"The story for me has to do with the terrible fears of growing out of childhood and growing into a young man or young woman," he says. "This whole fantasy of hers has to do with her becoming a woman, becoming a young woman. Each character is helping her to grow and get over their fears."

What else helped ring the bell for Wilder?

"The first thing I do when they [Alice and a gryphon] come to see me is lift my head and weep. The second thing I do is lift my head and weep. The third thing I do is lift my head and tell a joke. To start off with such a range that I'm weeping at the sadness of my condition it appealed to the secret vaudevillian in me that's almost the story of my life."

Because he appears in miniature for the most part, Wilder had to act in front of a blue screen a special-effects device that allows producers to add background later on. And with the gryphon being computer-generated, most of his scenes were done alone. As such, he had to react to a character that was inserted later in production.

For many sequences, though, Majorino was just off camera, helping Wilder through the scene. "I've never done anything quite like it," he says. "Everything I did was not only against a blue screen, but also standing on a blue disc 10 feet wide. . . . My acting teacher used to say acting was reacting to an imaginary stimulus." He says he got his "life's blood, so to speak," from Majorino's presence.

"Alice in Wonderland" shot by executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. over three months in London is the first project in which Majorino has played the lead. The 14-year-old, who appeared in the film "True Women" with Angelina Jolie and Dana Delany, was up to the task.

"I always feel like it's a team effort, whether it's a starring role or not," she says. "It's not just me. It's everybody else, also. I always feel we're working mutually. I'm happy to be there. I'm happy to be in the same room with those actors."

Majorino, a high-school freshman, had to give up some of her summer vacation to work on the film.

"I don't mind it at all," she says. "When I went up to do it, I had already spent a lot of time with my friends. I'm sort of like a workaholic.

"I always have time for everything. Some how I balance things out," she says.

What high-school student wouldn't want to spend some time working in London with a star-studded cast? And by now, most of Majorino's close friends are used to her acting ways, so her projects are no longer a big deal.

She admits. though, that working on "Alice" was more difficult than anything else she has done, because of the workload involved in a lead role. She's not complaining, mind you.

"In other shows, you work on and off for three months," she explains. "Here, we had no days off; we worked five-day weeks. We worked long and hard, but it was excellent and a lot of fun."

NBC, of course, is hoping viewers, lots of viewers, feel the same way.

Big 'Alice' Ratings Mean Sweeps Victory for NBC

Daily News Staff Writer

It has been a disappointing season so far, but if NBC gets the huge audience it expects from "Alice in Wonderland" Sunday night, it would have a lock on the top spot for the competitive February sweeps ratings race.

"Right now, NBC's got a fair advantage in the household ratings," said Marc Berman, associate program director at Seltel, a firm that advises stations on program choices. "If 'Alice' does as well as predicted, it will solidify NBC's position."

While the Peacock network enters the weekend with a slim lead over CBS in the household ratings, it has a decent lead in total viewers and is way ahead with its target audience of 18 to 49-year-old viewers.

The sweeps are quarterly ratings periods used by stations to set advertising rates. The current sweeps period ends Wednesday night.

For NBC, which has been running about 17% behind last year's audience levels all season long, a sweeps win would be very sweet.

For the sweeps through Tuesday night, NBC was averaging a 9.9 rating (percentage of the nation's 99.4 million TV homes) and a 16 share (percentage of the sets in use), up 10% over the same period last year, which was influenced by CBS' coverage of the Winter Olympics. NBC is averaging 14,323,000 viewers, with 7,875,000 of them between the ages of 18 and 49.

CBS is averaging a 9.6 rating/16 share, with 13,469,000 viewers (4,875,000 18-49s).

ABC is averaging an 8.5/14, with 12,707,000 viewers (6,500,0000 18-49s). And Fox is averaging a 7.0/11, with 10,420,000 viewers (6,625,000 18-49s).

Besides "Alice," last night's Grammys on CBS and next Wednesday's Barbara Walters interview with Monica Lewinsky on ABC should be big factors in determining the final outcome of the sweeps race.

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