Lewis Caroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are classic stories, oddball and fairly difficult to adapt but colourful and quite magical. As a child my favourite adaptations were this and the Disney film(the first one I saw), and re-watching this 2-part version again it still is a favourite. It's not perfect, not all the casting(a vast majority do) and songs(maligned but not that bad, more hit and miss) work, and while the faithfulness to the stories is very admirable and pays off very well often some scenes can drag as a result of being a little too faithful.
The sets are very colourful and designed lovingly, with a mix of eeriness when down the rabbit hole and sumptuous colour with the Flower Garden. If there was a choice between in the Alice in Wonderland half and the Through the Looking Glass half, marginal preferences would go to Through the Looking Glass, the visuals are more vivid and the characters a little kookier. Some of the more memorable performances of the whole adaptation are in Through the Looking Glass too, and the pacing is a little more secure. The costumes are rather weird- Cheshire Cat, Bill the Lizard, the Oysters and Dodo Bird were among the worst cases. But the ones for Alice, White Knight, Red Queen and Queen of Hearts are very appropriate and there is a soft spot for White Rabbit's too. The atmosphere is a great mix of eerie, oddball, funny, whimsical and colourful.
And the dialogue is clever, faithful in spirit to the story, some of it is literally lifted out of the pages of the book(s). You do wish that the Mock Turtle's melancholic poem was left intact though. In regard to the story, it is mostly very well-adapted though a bit draggy in spots. Of individual scenes, faring best are the Mad Hatter tea party, the train scene, the Old Father William musical number, the trial, Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday, the touching We Are Dancing and Emotions numbers and of course the first appearance of the Jabberwocky(as a child that was terrifying, and even to a 21-year old it was scary). The ending is also a tear-jerker. Some scenes didn't fare so well, I don't remember a single thing about the scene with the Mouse, Dodo and Lory Bird, the Caterpillar scene would have fared better with the whole thing about the mushrooms(it did seem a little pointless), the Lion and the Unicron scene is awkwardly staged and Ernest Borgnine seemed ill at ease and the Walrus and the Carpenter number is fun but suffers from cheap costuming.
Which brings us onto the songs and casting. The background scoring and orchestrations are excellent and beautifully done, the Overtures over the opening credits show real promise and the creepiness and whimsy that pulsates the scoring throughout are used most effectively. The songs have been maligned, and in a way understandably. There are some good ones, though some suffer from being too brief or too samey. The best way to describe the songs are hit-and-miss. The hits were Old Father William(with choreography that seemed to be paying homage to Shirley Temple); There's No Way Home is a beautiful song and sung in a way that is a mix of vocally understated Frank Sinatra and Burl Ives; the very poignant We Ae Dancing with some of the best visuals of the adaptation; the intimidating Off With their Heads and the riotous Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday. There are a few misses though, I Hate Dogs and Cats is probably the most forgettable song in all senses in the entire adaptation; There's Something to Say as well as being quite badly sung is no better; Laugh is rather dull despite Anthony Newley's singing; Lion and the Unicorn is a tad repetitive and Nonsense lacks irony, is not as poignant as Caroll's Mock Turtle poem in the book and is somewhat contradictory too.
Most of the acting is fine, but like with the songs some don't work. Shelley Winters, John Stamos and Donald O'Connor are wasted; Donna Mills is competent if unmemorable; Telly Salavas is too sympathetic for Cheshire Cat; Scott Biao performs with no real feeling or understanding of his few lines; Beau Bridges is a somewhat effeminate Unicorn; Ernest Borgnine looked uncomfortable as the Lion and Jonathan Winters is rather dull as Humpty Dumpty. Natalie Gregory however is a very endearing Alice, carrying the adaptation very well and charmingly and with spunk. The cast are like a Who's Who and it's really fun to spot. These were the performers that stood out. Sammy Davis Jnr plays Caterpillar with great personality and firmness and still is a great singer and dancer, the White Rabbit of Red Buttons is suitably jittery, Carol Channing is a riot as the White Queen, Robert Morley's King of Hearts is probably definitive, Lloyd Bridge's White Knight is chivalrous and meaningful, Jayne Meadows is a genuinely intimidating Queen of Hearts and Ann Jillian's Red Queen is performed with real gusto and menace(she also sings Emotions wonderfully).
And we also have Ringo Starr's melancholic Mock Turtle, Jack Warden's Wise Owl, Karl Malden's stuffy Walrus, Harvey Korman's imposing White King, Anthony Newley's very funny Mad Hatter, Arte Johnson's nervous Doormouse and Roddy McDowell's twitchy March Hare. In fact, while some like Patrick Duffy, Sally Struthers and Pat Morita are merely cameo appearances, the acting is good enough. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are great fun too, and isn't that Jabberwocky scary or what? Overall, along with Disney's it is one of the best adaptations of the book and is the most faithful to the book(s), Nick Willing's 1999 adaptation is faithful too. 8/10 Bethany Cox