A Celebration of that Magical Day when the Girl Alice left the Real World behind and followed the White Rabbit Underground
Lewis Carroll chose May 4th for Alice’s adventure down the rabbit hole because it was the birthday of the real Alice Liddell. The date is revealed during the tea party scene – first from a comment that it is May and therefore the March Hare won’t be raving mad, and then when the Mad Hatter asks Alice what day of the month it is, and she replies that it’s the fourth. (In the sequel Through the Looking Glass, she mentions that tomorrow there will be a bonfire – for Guy Fawkes Day, which is November 5th – and then tells Humpty Dumpty that she is seven and a half years old, exactly, making it November 4.)
I have celebrated Alice’s trip to Wonderland on this date for over ten years. However, one day is never enough, and so I call this Alice Days, since the festivities always last through several days and nights. Following are some of my ideas for Alice-themed parties on May 4 and beyond. Check out the photos of some of these ideas made real from my own Alice Days celebrations over the years at the bottom of this page. [Also see Mad Hatter Day for another way of celebrating the Alice phenomenon.]
Alice Day Activities, Food & Decorations
You must center the day around a tea party, of course. If one of the guests is male, he can wear the Mad Hatter’s 10/6 top hat. Women can dress like Alice or the Queen of Hearts. (Or vice versa, no reason gender roles can’t be reversed!) Stuffed animals can be the rabbit and dormouse. The table is laid with a full tea set. Add to this oversized and/or miniature bottles of alcohol (with “Drink Me” tags) and cakes marked “Eat Me”.
You can make mushroom-shaped cookies and tea sandwiches with an appropriate cookie-cutter, or make red velvet cupcakes and decorate with dabs of white icing to mimick the traditional fairy mushroom. You can make a fairy mushroom salad by laying out a bed of greens, then placing several hard-boiled eggs upright, topped with halved cherry tomatoes which are daubed with bits of goat cheese.
We also like to have plenty of candy on hand, to increase the child-like fun. Those little wax bottles filled with candy liquid are especially appropriate, as are cordial chocolates – we even found some shaped like bottles, and they have real liqueur inside. We use gummy worms as “caterpillars” – get creative!
Signs can be hung with famous illustrations of Alice, and sayings like “Beware the Jabberwock,” “Who Are You?” and “We’re All Mad Here.” You can make a great curtain-type entrance to a room by stringing oversized 5×7 playing cards at odd angles and hanging them from a doorframe – it mimicks the last scene where the pack of cards comes falling down on Alice. Colored chalk can be used to decorate the sidewalk outside for guests, including big white rabbit footprints leading up to the door, and admonitions of “You’re Late!”
Start off the festivities by playing “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, or any other thematic music you can find.
I recommend watching every available film version of the Alice stories that you can find – keep them running throughout the day, even as background to the games and activities. My favorite film version of Alice is probably the one by Jan Svankmajer, but there are dozens. (See my list of Alice movies below.) I also have compiled a YouTube playlist of Alice-related TV episodes, commercials, homemade short films, music videos, and more.
Silly games are a must. If you can find one, there are several Alice-themed puzzles available, as well as board games, card games, coloring books, and even a tarot deck! Any card games are appropriate, of course, as is chess. And there are always plenty of fun drinking games. I also suggest a round of blindfolded “pin the grin on the Cheshire cat”.
Other intoxicants besides alcohol can be consumed if desired (and legal and safe)*. Try to achieve, by whatever means, a sufficiently surreal state of mind. This can also be affected by decorations/atmosphere, the repetition of various Alice versions on film (the fifth or sixth time you see an incarnation of the Mad Hatter or Caterpillar will start making you feel very strange indeed), and the dedication of the participants to putting their mundane cares aside. Be prepared for an otherworldly experience, and have fun!
*Obviously mushrooms would be most appropriate – the only type of psychoactive mushroom that’s legal as far as I know is Amanita muscaria (fly agaric), recognizable as the classic red and white-spotted fairy mushroom, often mistaken as the one on which the Caterpillar sits with his hookah. For more information, look it up on Erowid. Always do your homework before experimenting with any substances.
Movies I have seen so far…. (recommended are starred)
- Silent versions – 1903 (very brief) and 1915 (quite interesting)
- Alice in Wonderland – 1933 live action with puppet-type costuming, starring W.C. Fields, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. Pretty decent adaptation (one of the first), and it’s fun to see some of the famous actors from early films.
- *Alice in Wonderland* – 1950, starring Carol Marsh as Alice, with puppets by Lou Bunin. Begins with live action depiction of Alice’s life, with stop-motion puppetry once she’s in Wonderland. Good for a musical version (I’m not fond of musicals) and has a great Cheshire Cat.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1951, the Disney cartoon classic. I like the Cheshire Cat in this one, too. Combines both books into one storyline.
- Alice Through The Looking Glass – 1966, made-for-tv musical starring (among others) Ricardo Montalban and Jack Palance (as the fabulously-costumed Jabberwocky). Pretty awful, I had a hard time watching it till the end, especially the musical numbers.
- *Alice in Wonderland* – 1966, directed by Jonathan Miller with soundtrack by Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar. Black and white. Very surreal, dreamy quality, hardly any dialogue, but captures the mood very well. One of my favorites.
- Alice in Acidland – 1968, directed by John Donne. Not very Alice-like, really, but I had to rent it for the title. Horrible film warning of the dangers of pot and acid, similar to Reefer Madness.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – 1972 all-star musical with Michael Crawford, Fiona Fullerton, Peter Sellers, etc. I found this insanely dull. It follows the book almost perfectly, but without any inspiration. The songs, as is often the case, are agonizing.
- Alice Through the Looking Glass – 1974 BBC production with costumes and backgrounds echoing Tenniel’s illustrations, not bad but ultimately forgettable.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1976, awful porno version starring Kristine DeBell. Alice is an uptight virgin librarian who finds the door to a Wonderland filled with lascivious characters. Bad.
- The Muppet Show – 1980 episode starring Brooke Shields as Alice features skits of many of the scenes, enough to qualify as a free-standing Alice film in my opinion.
- Alice at the Palace – 1982 stage version starring Meryl Streep, who plays a strangely infantile Alice. Not to my taste, although the way they managed the Caterpillar scene (with several actors stacked on top of each other all being the many legs of the caterpillar) was quite interesting.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1983, stage production, starring Nathan Lane, Richard Burton, Kate Burton and Colleen Dewhurst. Interesting use of the original Tenniel illustrations as the backdrops, otherwise fairly boring, with an uninspired performance from Alice. However, the Cheshire Cat scene with Geoffrey Holder is worth watching – definitely one of my favorites.
- *Dreamchild* – 1985, with Wonderland creatures by Jim Henson’s studio. A wonderful story of the real Alice Liddell, in her 80’s, travelling to America for the centenary celebration of Lewis Carroll. While there, she has flashbacks of her life with Carroll (portrayed perfectly by Ian Holm) and scenes from the Alice books. A great tea party scene with truly creepy Mad Hatter and March Hare.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1985, produced by Irwin Allen. Packed with stars such as Sammy Davis Jr. (as the caterpillar) and Ringo Starr (the mock turtle). However, not one of my favorites, especially considering the songs.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1986 BBC production – despite some interesting costumes, pretty awful.
- *Alice* – 1987, written and directed by Jan Svankmajer, live Alice and many puppets. My favorite Alice yet. Incredibly surreal, it captures the darkest side of Carroll’s tale. Also has the best White Rabbit I’ve seen, a taxidermy display come to life. When Alice shrinks, she turns from a real girl into a small doll. Many of the creatures are constructed from animal skeletons. Very disturbing, just how I like it! Very little dialogue, mostly action.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1988 animated version
- Adventures in Wonderland – 1991 Disney spin-off tv series, live action, only vaguely related to Alice by using most of the characters, but new storylines.
- Alice in Wonderland: A Dance Fantasy – 1993, staged ballet version. Was expecting something tame and boring, but it was less ballet and more crazy modern dance. The Alice aspects were fairly stylized and general, rather than following the actual storyline, but it was all weird enough to feel appropriate. Especially good when playing other, random music over it instead of the actual symphony score.
- Miyuki-chan in Wonderland – 1995, anime version of the story, with strange sexual overtones. All the characters are buxom women.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1995 animated version, mediocre.
- Alice Through the Looking Glass – 1995 animated version, only barely relevant to the original story, but amusing in parts.
- *Through the Looking Glass* – 1998, made for tv, starring Kate Beckinsale as Alice, directed by John Henderson. My favorite strictly Looking Glass adaptation. Has the best Tweedledee/Tweedledum, strangely reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. Also a great performance by Ian Holm as the White Knight. Visually stunning and the director clearly had a unique vision, which is sadly rare for Alice remakes.
- Alice in Wonderland – 1999, distributed by Hallmark, starring Martin Short as the Mad Hatter and Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat. Better than I had expected, but not great.
- Hello Kitty: Alice in Wonderland – 2004 short in a collection featuring Hello Kitty as the title character, of course.
- Phoebe in Wonderland – 2007, live action, not technically an Alice retelling, but rather a beautiful plot of its own with strong ties to Alice and some enacting of the story. A little girl with Tourette’s who falls in love with Alice in Wonderland as her school puts on the play.
- Alice in Wonderland – 2007 animated version, mediocre.
- Unsuk Chin: Alice in Wonderland – 2008 Korean opera with giant puppets, strange and unique but ultimately hard to watch.
- Abby in Wonderland – 2008 Sesame Street version with muppets. Grover is the Mad Hatter, Elmo is the White Red Rabbit, the Count is the Caterpillar, and Cookie Monster is the Cheshire Cat. I admit I kind of liked this in a weird way, and they put in a few elements that most versions ignore but I love, like the door through the tree. Also, they changed the Red Queen into a King so it could be Oscar the Grouch (I assume because he’s the only truly nasty character), which made the dynamic interesting.
- The Initiation of Alice in Wonderland (2009), Alice: A Look Into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2009), and The Life of Lewis Carroll (2008) – all mediocre documentaries about the topic.
- Malice in Wonderland – 2009, modern, “real world” version which lightly uses the characters in a new and different way. Worth watching.
- Alice – 2009 Syfy channel miniseries, live action. Clever, modernized version with an adult Alice in a dystopic wonderland.
- Mickey’s Adventures in Wonderland – 2009 Disney cartoon
- Alice in Wonderland – 2010 Disney live action/cgi movie by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter who is fortunately allowed a bit of a dark side. I could live without the beginning and end pieces in the “real world” which were kind of plodding, and the fight with the Jabberwocky at the end, but the bulk of the movie is well executed, with lots of little details that shine through (the Cheshire Cat is a highlight). The overall feel is slightly disturbing and surreal, just as it should be.
- Alice in Wonderland – 2010, matches new animation to a 1948 radio recording, voices of Dinah Shore and Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd), visually terrible but kind of historically interesting.
- Alex in Wonderland – 2010 Debbie Allen produced stage musical, barely related to the books at all
Haven’t seen yet…..
- There are too many Alice movies in existence to count. There’s even a Care Bears in Wonderland! I have been hoping to see Alice’s Misadventures in Wonderland for some time now (though they don’t appear to be selling the DVD yet) as well as the rumoured project by Marilyn Manson, and the also-rumoured movie based on the video game.
Non-Alice movies appopriate for viewing on Alice Day:
- Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz, Tin Man, and other versions of the Oz stories
- Spirited Away
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- other Girls Underground movies (look through my Examples list to see the films I’ve covered)
PHOTOS FROM MY OWN ALICE DAYS CELEBRATIONS