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ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Entertaining score is just plain fun
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is one of the most innately filmable children's books, and it's no surprise that it's been seen on our screens many times, in many different versions. In the early seventies, John Barry scored one; this latest version, a tv miniseries originally aired in 1998, was scored by Richard Hartley, who won a well-deserved Emmy for his efforts.
There are an amazing forty tracks, nine of which are songs. It's the songs I like most about this release - performed by such vocal luminaries as Ken Dodd, Martin Short and Gene Wilder, most of them are hilariously funny. Tina Majorino, who plays Alice, actually has a very attractive voice. "Beautiful Soup" and "Will You Won't You Join the Dance" are particular highlights.
Hartley's score is great fun too; he combines numerous classical in-jokes (many of which will bring a smile to the face) with a great deal of personality of his own. The main title starts with a large orchestral-and-choral theme that's somewhat reminiscent of John Williams's Witches of Eastwick before segueing into a kind of pseudo-baroque piece.
The big problem, which is inevitable, is that the album sounds far, far too "bitty". One of the tracks is only sixteen seconds long; there are many more which are around the one-minute mark. While Thomas Newman fans will probably derive orgasmic pleasure from this, for the rest of the world it's a major irritation. With just a little judicious pruning - perhaps ten tracks, at a total cost of no more than six or seven minutes - this album could have been so much more enjoyable. And, despite the enormous amount of music here, there's no real melodic theme to bind the whole thing together, which seems something of a major oversight given the subject-matter at hand.
As it stands, I still recommend this as one of the best television scores of recent times; and if you're simply out to have some fun listening to music, you can't do much better than listen to Alice in Wonderland.
Rating *** 1/2
Total Time 71:07
Varèse Sarabande VSD-6021
Artwork copyright (c) 1998 Hallmark Entertainment; review copyright (c) 1999 James Southall