• Wonderland at ACMI

Wonderland. We’ve all been there. And like the best stories, it is the way it allows us to escape, as well as empathise, that makes it so powerful. I would love to write a book like this – where anything you can imagine is believed.

Showing at the Australian Centre of Moving Image (ACMI) until 7 October, this is the first showing of Wonderland as an exhibition. I know it is not entirely the first, as I remember, so fondly, seeing one as a child where there were many doors, one leading to Alice’s bedroom (which was upside down with the bed on the roof), and mementos like the real Alice’s sewing scissors on display.  Lewis Carroll wrote that a girl grows faster than a book is complete. But a hundred years later, this story is still lapped up by children and adults alike.

Down in the basement of ACMI, you’ll be given a map themed as the Queen of Hearts, Cheshire cat, or other characters from our story. Our beloved tale begins with the hallway of doors. Crawl through the quarter-sized door way and find yourself in a hall with identical doors and one way mirrors at each end. My eleven year old buddy was just as excited by the one way mirrors as the doors. How cheeky to watch others unknown!

Open the doors and drawers to see some of the hundreds of drawings of Alice, letters between Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll) and his publishers, and screenings of old films.
At this point you get some understanding to the extent and depth of the love for this story. I’ve been lucky to see three movies, one TV series and books in two languages (translated by Carroll himself). But since it was first published in 1865, it was made into a film in 1903, again in 1931, with Betty Boop n 1934, again another movie in 1949, as a Disney film in 1951, an interpretation similar to the Flinstones arrived in 1966, as an X-rated musical comedy in 1976, as Japanese anime in 1983, a TV series in 1985, as a Care Bears episode in 1987, a surrealist interpretation by Jan Švankmajer in 1988, a TV series in 1992, another in 1999, a video game in 2000, as SyFy’s Alice in 2009 with a Sci-Fi take, finally Tim Burton’s adaptation in 2010, and a further TV show in 2013. This does not even mention the cute French series, the movie I remember seeing as a kid, its inclusion in songs, audio books, translations of the novel, and the Disney ride.

Throughout the exhibition are displayed clips, props, costumes and drawings. In addition, ACMI has added its own interpretations. Look out for the Hatter’s tea party: a sound and light show set up around a table laden with plates, cups and tea pots. Following this is a craft room where you can cut out stickers to make your own playing card at the back of your map. Photograph yourself with a silly face, and it will be stuck to you own created card to run around a screen painting white roses red. Hilarious.

Other highlights include a circular screened room showing different clips from movies, television shows and songs with the best known lines we love.

The enjoyment of the exhibition may rely on having an obsession, or at least a like, of the story. A shrunken house just does not have the same impact if you have never imagined it before. But even kids and adults who know little of the story can find entertainment in the interactive stations and beautiful artefacts and descriptions.

My eleven year old buddy loved it. I did too. And a tale as old as this one had to be good to have not just survived, but flourished.

Venue: ACMI

Showing until 7 October.