March 5th, 2010
01:20 PM ET

1903 'Alice' gets a new lease on life

My first encounter with Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" was watching it on my parents' TV on a VHS tape - a format now thought of as a bit outdated. It was the 1951 Walt Disney version.

But what some of us think of as the first time "Alice" hit the big screen is a far cry from her actual film debut in 1903. That's right, 1903. The Wright Brothers hadn't even gotten their plane off the ground until the end of 1903. Since then there have been quite a few "Alice" film adaptations.

As fans eagerly await the release of Tim Burton's 3D spectacle full of special effects, they should consider watching the first ever Alice to truly appreciate how far the film has come.

According to the British Film Institute there is only one copy of the 1903 "Alice." It wasn't until 2009 that the fragile film could be digitally restored. Only eight of twelve minutes of the scratchy black and white film were salvaged and have been published on the BFI's Youtube channel.

The seemingly magical appearance of the giant Cheshire cat - an actual cat - is an astonishing effect for its day. And even though the film is silent, the whimsical piano accompaniment moves the story right along. If I'd been a kid in 1903, I'm guessing I would have been blown away by this film. Just as I'm sure I'll be blown away when I go see Tim Burton's version.

Alice, you've come a long way.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. jackgreen937

    Thanks for provided information of alice..
    i like your blog.Everything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. was truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing...
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    April 21, 2011 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
  2. williamryan.liam

    The footage of the film is Amazing. The 1951 film is a favorite of mine and the 1903 film was great to compare the two. Thank you for the restoration!


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    April 21, 2011 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
  3. robert

    Hollywood should take steps to insure that Hollywood classics are not lost forever. The BBC and Universal both had fires and irreplaceable films were lost.

    March 9, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. mushymushroom

    Oh well, I wanna see that 1903 sounds...weird in a good way... 🙂

    and of course I wanna see the 2010 version as well... 🙂

    March 8, 2010 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ben

    Awful! Thank goodness for modern cinema!

    March 7, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Alex

    A love seeing the restoration of these silent films. The special effects were amazing for 1903. Thanks again.

    March 7, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  7. Jack

    Burton really screwed up "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" – making Wonka into a creepy, pedophilic, Michael Jackson-esq character. God help "Alice" escape a similar fate.

    March 6, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ian

    I saw the new Alice.... Lat night in IMAX 3D it changed my life, not really, but IMAX 3D for this movie is the way to go.

    March 6, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. Suzanne

    Thank you so much for giving us this wonderful glimpse of the past!
    Excellent that they were able to restore as much of this as they did!

    March 6, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  10. appled

    For my money, the most convincing effect in this amazing bit of history is Alice's size changes when she eats/drinks. Thanks for posting this.

    March 6, 2010 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jeff

    I liked the Mad Hatter's pants.

    March 6, 2010 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ann

    Can't wait to see this new version.

    March 6, 2010 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. lauren

    The footage of the film is Amazing. The 1951 film is a favorite of mine and the 1903 film was great to compare the two. Thank you for the restoration!

    March 6, 2010 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Sarah

    A really charming movie!
    Note that the Disney version's music of Alice in Wonderland is very similar to the music in the 1903 version.

    March 5, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Marty Jourard

    The piano music is variations on themes by Erik Satie.

    March 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  16. She-ron

    I wanna see that 1903 one and I can't wait to see the Tim Burton one!! Its gonna be good its got Johnny Deep in it!

    March 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  17. nina

    I think the silent movies told better stories – they had to work harder to get the story across visually instead of now when movies seem like talking heads intercut with chases and explosions.

    March 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Christine

    I like the way Callie writes and look forward to seeing more from her. I have IMAX tickets for Alice in Wonderland and will have fun comparing.


    March 5, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  19. eb4099

    That was great!!!!!

    March 5, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Ann

    My daughter gave me PJ's for Xmas w/ the Tea Party on them. So I think of this movie every time I wear them. This story was a real child's fantasy. So glad you brought us the old original film. Had no idea it went back so far.

    March 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Sandra

    Can't believe this footage still exists. Hope they can preserve it. WHAT a Chesire Cat!!

    March 5, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Vic

    Mo mother took me to see this movie when I was little and I have NEVERW forgotten it. The images were so memorable they have stuck with me for a lifetime.

    March 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Vic

    Great Story!

    March 5, 2010 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Sean

    I'm very surprised too and I'm going to show it to my mom's friend that's a big Disney fan. Even if this is not a Disney film my mom's friend will still be astonished and shocked what she's going to see here on CNN.

    March 5, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Sue

    When I first say this film, in about 1950, it scared me to death (I was 7 years old at the time.) To this day, the thought of the Cheshire cat gives me fear of nightmares. I was well into adulthood before i was able to actually "like" a 'real' cat. Don't know what version I saw - could possibly even have been the 1903 or soon thereafter!! But WHAT a story!

    Keep bringing us more film stories like this one. Thx.

    March 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Str8 Outta Tx

    get real.

    March 5, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |

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