Alice in Wonderland (1983) Movie Poster Image

Alice in Wonderland (1983)

Star-studded stage musical harder for young kids to follow.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Release Year: 2001
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Resilience in the face of the unknown.

Positive role models

Alice is quite resilient and fearless in this story. Despite meeting some frightening and creepy individuals and creatures, she keeps her chin up and continues on her journey.

Violence & scariness

The Queen of Hearts is clearly bloodthirsty and keeps sentencing people to have their heads cut off. She even has a show trial for someone accused of stealing tarts, but she really just wants him executed. The scene with the Duchess and the crying baby might frighten young children.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

In the framing device, Kate Burton the actress (not Alice!) is shown smoking a cigarette, and later in the production, the Caterpillar smokes a hookah, but that is as Lewis Carroll wrote the character.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this filmed Broadway musical production is quite literary in its adaptation, making it simultaneously more faithful to the original Lewis Carroll works, but also considerably more difficult for young children to follow. Because of some of the sophisticated wordplay and the two smoking characters, not to mention the show trial for the Knave of Hearts and the Queen of Hearts' prediliction for sentencing people to death, this particular adaptation is best sutied for older elementary-aged kids and teens who are already familiar with Alice's adventures.

Kids say

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What's the story?

In an unnecessarily coy framing device, an understudy (Kate Burton) is shown practicing her lines to play Alice in a stage production. As she's furiously puffing away at a cigarette, she stares at a mirror and is transported into Wonderland, where she becomes the 7-and-a-half-year-old Alice, outfitted with the authentic blue pinafore and long blond hair. In the chessboard-themed Wonderland, Alice come across various characters, like the bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts (Eve Arden), the dancing Tweedle twins (hoofers Andre De Shields and Alan Weeks), the Cheshire Cat (Geoffrey Holder), and the White Knight (Richard Burton) on her way to becoming crowned Queen.

Is it any good?


This is a fine introduction to stage musicals, though there's always something missing when a theatrical production is adapted for television. The theater stars in this 1983 PBS Great Performances' production (a recorded-for-TV version of the 1982 Broadway revival) are undeniable masters of their craft -- from Burton Sr. and Maureen Stapleton (the White Queen) to Colleen Dewhurst (Red Queen) and the great Donald O'Connor (Humpty Dumpty)  to a much younger Nathan Lane (Mouse) -- and the black-and-white set design is surprisingly faithful to the illustrations in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Although the singing and dancing is obviously stellar, the actual musical numbers themselves are kind of underwhelming.

As Alice, Burton (who is Richard's daughter and best known to contemporary audience as Meredith Grey's mother Ellis in Grey's Anatomy), is appropriately awed but unintimidated by everyone she meets (even while the Queen of Hearts is snapping "Off with their heads!"). She's not an actress known for playing wide-eyed ingenues, preferring strong and successful women in her roles, so it was a bit of  hard sell at first to see her as Alice. As the musical continues, however, Burton grows on you. She had excellent rapport with all the actors, although understandably the parts with her father as the White Knight are the best.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the enduring popularity of the Alice story. What makes Alice and her adventure so compelling and timeless?

  • Carroll's first Alice book has a playing-card theme, and the second has a chess theme. Is it confusing to combine the two stories and two motifs? What do you think they mean?

  • Was it confusing to occasionally see the actress playing Alice in her dressing room? Would it have been better not to have those parts? Why?

Movie details

DVD/Streaming release date:November 20, 2001
Cast:Colleen Dewhurst, Donald O'Connor, Kate Burton, Richard Burton
Director:Kirk Browning
Studio:Broadway Theatre Archive
Run time:90 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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Adult Written byMovieLover4Lyfe October 7, 2010
This version of Alice is more for the adults, I don't think children will be able to appreciate and it may not be completely appropriate for all children.
Parent of a 3 and 5 year old Written byCandiceCorner January 20, 2013

Briliant, but I don't think they had children in mind

I'm writing as someone who saw this repeatedly as a 7 year old in 1984. It was one of the first VCR tapes we owned. My father got it for me but did not bother to see it for himself and so he did not know how strange it would be for kids. After seeing this again today and as a mother of two (ages 3 and 5), I see that while it is a brilliant production with an awesome cast, I doubt it was made with a children audience in mind. There are some disturbing elements involved such as the Duchess holding, dropping and beating her baby, who eventually turns into a pig. If your child must see this, then please try to be in the room with them so that it can be talked about and the child isn't left to fend for themselves trying to make sense of all the nonsense that is in Wonderland, especially this one.
What other families should know
Too much violence