THE BOOTLEG FILES: “ALICE OF WONDERLAND IN PARIS”

BOOTLEG FILES 150: “Alice of Wonderland in Paris” (1966 animated atrocity).

LAST SEEN: Available for online viewing at MovieFlix.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Only in duped copies.

REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: This one belongs on the far side of the looking glass!

CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Probably not as an “official” version.

When it comes to animation, one can have a lively debate regarding which person deserves the title of the greatest animator of all time. However, there won’t be much of a debate regarding the worse animator of all time: Gene Deitch.

Gene who? Well, you may not recognize the name but you will know his work: he was responsible for those sloppy, creepy, utterly unfunny Tom and Jerry and Popeye cartoons in the early 1960s. Deitch actually managed to work with two highly respected animation studios, UPA and Terrytoons, before leaving Hollywood in 1960 to move to Prague. That career switch was rather weird, given that Prague was far behind the Iron Curtain and many Czechoslovakians would’ve rather immigrated to America. But Deitch’s reverse journey came at the request of another Yank expatriate in Prague, film distributor William L. Snyder, who ran Rembrandt Films from the Czechoslovakian capital with the purpose of exporting cheaply-made local movies to unsuspecting American theaters. With Deitch in Prague, Snyder was able to ensure the Americanization of his products.

One of the earlier Snyder-Deitch productions, the fey animated short “Munro,” won an Oscar. But that was their sole artistic triumph. Their Tom and Jerry output and their Popeye cartoons won nothing but contempt – both series were abruptly cancelled due to poor audience reaction. Not willing to be sunk by bad reviews, Snyder and Deitch decided to upgrade from short subjects to feature films, and that leads us to “Alice of Wonderland in Paris.”

If you are expecting anything similar to the Walt Disney odyssey through Wonderland, forget it – the two films have nothing in common except the word “Wonderland” in their respective titles. And as for Lewis Carroll, forget it – he’s never mentioned. In fact, it’s hard to determine just who the Alice of the movie is supposed to be. She’s clearly not the naïve British lass of Victorian times. In this offering, she’s a bourgeois American who wears a bouffant hairdo and a mini-skirt. She’s supposed to be a little girl, but she sounds like a middle aged housewife (Norma MacMillan did the voice for the character).

In this go-round, Alice is already famous (the book “Alice in Wonderland” is spotted on a table). But Alice is bored – she wants to go to Paris. Her obsession with Paris is so strong that she begins to wear a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower on her head. “Getting to Wonderland was easy,” she rues. “All I had to do was fall down the rabbit hole. But let’s face it – it takes money to get to Paris!”

With uncommonly good timing, a talking French mouse riding a bicycle appears. He’s Francois and he’s on a mission to survey people about the best French cheeses. How he wound up in Alice’s bedroom is a mystery (he was riding through the Parisian sewers, took a wrong turn at Notre Dame, and emerged through a mousehole in another country). Alice is a ninny when it comes to the subject – she only likes cheeseburgers and cottage cheese with jelly – but she humors Francois with the hope that he can take her to Paris. Francois shrinks Alice to mouse-size by having her eat a slice of cheese made with the magic mushroom that shrunk her in Wonderland. (Personally, I prefer the magic mushrooms that Willie Nelson has on his tour bus, but I’m not in this movie.) The newly tiny Alice gets on Francois’ bicycle and they pedal off to Paris. Alice agrees with a comment her father once made: “It’s always best to travel on business.” Huh?

From here, the film conveniently forgets its inane set-up and swings into an anthology of short stories. Francois and Alice take turns prefixing each tale with a “let me tell you about…” opening, and from there the film switches gears into different stories. There are two adventures from the once-popular Madeline series of kiddie books: one has Madeline tolerating Pepito, the boorish son of the Spanish ambassador (he nearly gets killed when his attempt to feed a cat to a pack of dogs goes awry) and the other has Madeline and Pepito running away to join a gypsy circus (when their guardians come searching for them, the gypsies sew the children into a vaudeville lion costume and lock them in a cage – and they like it!).

Other stories involve “Anatole,” a Parisian mouse who becomes the vice president of a cheese company; “The Frowning Prince,” a bizarre comedy about a young royal who is incapable of smiling; and “Many Moons,” a charming James Thurber fantasy about a lunar-obsessed princess which is turned to muck here thanks to some of the tackiest animation ever put on film.

In between stories, Francois tries to gauge Alice’s opinions on cheese. He takes her to a cheese factory and stuffs her with cheese, causing her to turn green. Alice, for her part, wants to meet the storybook character Madeline. One might think an American girl in Paris, circa 1966, would rather meet Alain Delon – but never mind. The magic mushroom spell that shrank Alice abruptly wears off and she shoots back to normal height. But in doing so, she suddenly acquires aerodynamic skills and takes off into flight. Alice soars high into the clouds, waving goodbye to Paris and to all of the storybook characters that turned up in the course of the film. Alice then wakes up and finds herself home – it was all a dream! Oh bloody shit!

The animation in “Alice of Wonderland in Paris” is so horrible that one could imagine the entire film was put together on a lunchbreak. There’s no particular fun in denigrating the work: the ineptitude of Deitch’s artistic vision makes the film a clumsy, unappealing heap. But one could excuse crappy animation if the story was acceptable, yet that’s not the case here. The rickety structure of this production suggests the Attention Deficit Disorder School of Storytelling. And forget about the voice performances: old reliables like Carl Reiner, Howard Morris and Allen Swift were hired but they couldn’t work any magic.

“Alice of Wonderland in Paris” runs a scant 52 minutes, which is very short for a theatrical release; it may have been originally designed for TV. When the film turned up in theaters in early 1966 (via a small distributor called Childhood Productions), its running time was padded by having it paired with a live action short film about horses called “White Mane.” In the early 1970s, Paramount Pictures tried to re-release the Deitch film under the title “Alice in a New Wonderland” and, oddly, reran “White Mane” as part of the theatrical bill. Both theatrical releases were commercial flops, and the Snyder-Deitch team opted to stick with short films.

“Alice of Wonderland in Paris” fell into the public domain, thus allowing enterprising bootleggers to dupe the film endlessly. Cheapo DVDs can easily be found in retail bargain bins or at ridiculously low-priced online auctions (I got my copy for one cent via eBay). Animation addicts may wish to seek it out for the sake of curiosity, but for everyone else it will be wiser to stick with Lewis Carroll or Walt Disney – or to get a seat on the Willie Nelson tour bus and indulge in his magic mushrooms.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on October 6, 2006 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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