File Under Childhood/ TV Movies

Somehow you strayed and lost your way, and now there'll be no time to play, no time for joy, no time for friends - not even time to make amends. You are too naïve if you do believe life is innocent laughter and fun. (The Cheshire Cat)

In 1985, my parents went out for the night. Elizabeth was babysitting, with help from the TV movie we'd been anxiously awaiting: a live action version of Alice in Wonderland, in two parts. I don't remember a whole lot about the movie. I do remember cowering on the couch, petrified. Alice was stuck in Wonderland. What if she couldn't get out of it? What if she never got to go home again? I could not handle the basic premise of the movie, which is really the basic premise of a good third of all literature and drama. Ulysses, Dorothy, that guy in After Hours: they're all stuck in a trippy alternative universe. And while nothing has set me into hysterics like Alice (it did, after all, feature a rabid dragon and Ann Jillian as Queen), I still get an irrational fear and bad case of the heebie jeebies when I encounter that family of plotlines.

Thanks to the web, I tracked down the movie that made me nearly lose my mind. It turns out that lots of kids with nervous dispositions are on the same quest to find it, twenty years after the fact. One Lewis Caroll fan site parenthetically added to its description "This is the one you're looking for." It turns out it had an all-star cast, beyond just Queen Jillian. Apparently, Ringo Starr was in this movie. And, according to the IMBD, Scott Baio played a guinea pig named Pat. Was I really terrified of a movie starring Charles in Charge as a rodent?! What tickles me even more than the preponderance of well-known 80s personalities that populate the credits is the writer of the screenplay. It turns out that none other than Paul Zindel is partially responsible for my fear. Yes, the same Mr. Zindel who penned The Pigman and other YA favorites. The same Mr. Zindel who penned the only other TV movie I've ever hunted down: Babes in Toyland, that gem of a campy production in which the characters cheerfully sing an ode to their homestate, Ohio, imexplicably spelling it O-H-E-O in the refrain. I loved Babes in Toyland so much I wanted to see it again, and I felt betrayed when the long-awaited rental turned out to be the black and white original.

I've seen Babes in Toyland as an adult; it was on PAX a few Christmases ago (yes, that's Mr. Miyagi as Santa Claus). I still don't think I could handle Alice in Wonderland. Maybe on Halloween night, but only if Ben promises to hold my hand.

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