I want to take you back in time. Way back to the golden year of 1966.
See, back in 1966, the Hanna-Barbera animation studio made an amazing lineup of Saturday morning cartoon favorites. They also made several animated television specials, and this psychedelic retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a 1966 modern reinterpretation of the Lewis Carroll classic. This show aired in March of 1966 on ABC, and did quite well for itself in the ratings.
In this version, Alice is a modern-era teenage girl who has to finish a book report on the titular book. In an effort to stop her playful dog Fluff from pestering her, Alice tosses a ball to Fluff – who tries to catch it, but falls into the television set (i.e., a “looking glass”). Alice gives chase, falls through the picture tube looking glass, and then the musical adventures begin.
Would you like to see the original TV special? It’s rare … but I found a copy. It’s right here.
It should be noted that plenty of contemporary singers and actors lent their voices to the show – in many cases, the actors played recognizable versions of their stage characters, which were adapted into a Wonderland format.
The big “get” for this TV special was Sammy Davis, Jr., performing as a super-hep Cheshire Cat. His song, “What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” was actually the subtitle of this TV special.
And playing the part of the hookah-smoking caterpillar? It’s these recognizable Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. Seriously. Fred and Barney doing a song and dance vaudeville routine, complete with Chang and Eng Bunker-style umbilical cord.
And did I happen to mention that the show was sponsored by the Rexall family of pharmacists and druggists? Yeah, that definitely is a totally believable tie-in to this series.
Despite its initial success as a television special, ABC rebroadcast the special only once – in 1967 – and then it disappeared. There were plenty of tie-ins to the show, including a soundtrack album that featured voice talents from such artists as Scatman Crothers (who replaced Sammy Davis Jr., who was under contract to Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records) and Henry Corden (replacing Alan Reed’s recognizable voice).
And the strange thing was – fifty years after this initial broadcast, ABC revisited Wonderland as part of a 13-week limited series in the Once Upon a Time universe, which mixed characters from Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood and Aladdin into a melange of an action-adventure fantasy series. Here’s a promo clip of same.
I’m not surprised this version of the Alice legend didn’t survive. There were no Fred and Barney singing caterpillars, nor were there any promotional spots for Rexall.
Although if you were consuming 50-year-old drugs, it’s very possible you might have seen visions of Wonderland like this.