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Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" was watching it on my parents' TV on a VHS tape - a format now thought of as a bit outdated.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.

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