Curious Alice: When propaganda goes bad


Or not, depending on your perspective. . .

A still from the Curious Alice, via the National Archives.

A still from the Curious Alice, via the National Archives.

Consider, for example, this 1971 piece of federally produced propaganda created to teach grade-schoolers about the evils of drugs by associating specific drugs with characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — a tale filled with hidden meanings familiar to its target audience in large part thanks to a version sanitized through the medium of a Walt Disney film.

Wonderfully restored by the U.S. National Archives, here is:

Curious Alice [1971]

Program notes:

This drug abuse educational film portrays an animated fantasy based upon the characters in “Alice in Wonderland.” The film shows Alice as she toured a strange land where everyone had chosen to use drugs, forcing Alice to ponder whether drugs were the right choice for her. The “Mad Hatter” character represents Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), the “Dormouse” represents sleeping pills, and the “King of Hearts” represents heroin. Ultimately, Alice concluded that drug abuse is senseless.

Audrey Amidon of the National Archives writes of the film:

When I first saw a beat-up, faded print of Curious Alice, it was clear that whatever anti-drug sentiment the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was trying to convey, it just wasn’t working.

In Curious Alice (1971), a film intended for eight to ten year olds, our young Alice falls asleep while reading a book. She encounters cigarettes, liquor, and medicines, and realizes that they are all types of drugs. When she sees the “Drink Me” bottle, she understands that it contains something like a drug, yet after a half-second’s consideration, she drinks the entire bottle and enters a fantasy world. In Drug Wonderland, Alice learns about the hard stuff from her new friends the Mad Hatter (LSD), the March Hare (amphetamines), the Dormouse (barbiturates), and the King of Hearts (heroin). The events of Curious Alice play out as an expression of Alice’s drug trip. Unfortunately, the trip is kind of fun and effectively cancels out the film’s anti-drug message.

The psychedelic Monty Python-style animation in Wonderland is one of the best things about Curious Alice. It’s also one of the biggest reasons that the film is an overall misfire. If one listens closely, Alice is saying plenty about why drugs are bad, but the imagery is so mesmerizing that it’s hard to pay attention to the film’s message. Further, the drug users are cartoon characters with no connection to real people or real drug problems. Why take the March Hare’s drug problem seriously when you know that Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff and is always back for the next gag?

Read the rest.

The film was directed by Dave Dixon for the U.S. Office of Education of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and stars Elizabeth Jones, a remarkably talented young woman in what appears to have been her only professional role, in what was apparently her first and only appearance on the silver screen.

As the Lewis Carroll Society of North America notes, “The animation and voice work are really quite good. . .almost too good! Looking back now at this clip, the girl’s bouffant hair, and (ahem) eye shadow, is pretty trippy, too.”

Indeed, esnl is reminded of a song. . .this song, in a remarkable version hinting at some of Carroll’s deeper currents from vlogger Pimvenus, who writes: “This is a music video I edited for my MEA 180 Intro to filmmaking class.”

White Rabbit Music Video – Jefferson Airplane

One response to “Curious Alice: When propaganda goes bad

  1. some of my classmates
    must have been corrupted
    from watching this! :-)

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