The New Alice in Wonderland (or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?) is a forty-eight-and-a-half-minute animated TV-movie, written by Bill Dana (who also appears in its cast), produced by Hanna-Barbera, and broadcast on the ABC network on March 30, 1966, in an hour slot (including commercials). The songs were by the then-hot Broadway team of composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Lee Adams, who were most famous for Bye Bye Birdie. The songs were orchestrated by Marty Paich, who also provided musical direction; plus devised and arranged that part of the underscoring that was drawn from the musical numbers. The rest of the underscoring was drawn from the vast library of cues that Hanna-Barbera's most significant (and at that time sole) in-house composer Hoyt Curtin had written for various animated series. (One example: When the Caterpillar makes its entrance, the underscoring is the familiar bassoon rendition of the Flintstones theme song—a cue employed for reasons that will be made clear below.)
This adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is essentially, and very intentionally, a modern riff on the classic tale: While trying to read the original Lewis Carroll book for a book report, Alice tries to fend off her little white dog Fluff, who's in a very playful mood, and tosses a ball for him to chase. It bounces toward and magically through the living room TV screen—and Fluff, in hot pursuit, disappears right after it. Alice goes after Fluff and of course winds up falling through herself, and entering Wonderland.
With this being Wonderland through the "looking glass"—and more meaningfully, the tacit "prism"—of a TV screen, the creative team had all the excuse they needed to reinterpret all the iconic Wonderland characters as TV celebrities. In some cases, this merely involved a celebrity voice and persona: Howard Morris lent the shy, sweet, impish persona he'd often employed in sketch comedy (most famously in Your Show of Shows) to the White Rabbit. Harvey Korman brought his take on effete eccentricity to the Mad Hatter. Perhaps most transparently, Zsa Zsa Gabor played a glamorous Queen of Hearts replete with Hungarian accent and a penchant for calling people "darling." And perhaps most famously, Sammy Davis, Jr. assayed the Cheshire Cat as a groovy, rockin', swingin' feline beatnik.
There were some celebrity cameos too: Fred Flintstone (voiced by Alan Reed speaking, Henry Corden singing) and Barney Rubble (voiced by Mel Blanc) literally play themselves as the Caterpillar, which is re-interpreted as two veteran vaudevillians in a caterpillar costume with heads on either end (the neckline of each respective head opening mimics their costumes from The Flintstones: Fred's has a necktie and Barney's features the signature cross-stitching of his tunic). Bill Dana's portrayal of the White Knight is a manifestation of Jose Jimenez, the Hispanic immigrant character he perfected in standup routines and on sitcoms (very likely this interpretation of the White Knight was also a comic nod to the most unlikely and famous fictional knight-errant of all, the Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote). Character actor Allan Melvin provided a voice inspired by Humphrey Bogart for the "hard-boiled" criminal egg, Humphrey Dumpty. And Hedda Hatter (a new character who pops into the mad tea party at the behest of the Mad Hatter) is voiced by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. It would be her last "public appearance"; she died two months prior to the film's initial broadcast.
In the book, Alice goes through a looking glass; in this version, she goes through a TV screen. In the book, Alice has a cat named Dinah, while in this version, she has a dog named Fluff.
Rexall and Coca-Cola sponsored this feature, and characters from the movie appeared in the Rexall commercials. (The playing time of the film as reported here does not include the commercials, which are neither part of the narrative nor the work of the core creative team.) The show was repeated on ABC primetime only once, a year later, and has occasionally, rarely been rebroadcast since, most recently on Cartoon Network. To date, it has never been officially released on video in any format (though unofficial digital transfers can be found).
After the movie was broadcast, Hanna-Barbera Records did commercially release a vinyl LP, whose content is likewise currently out of print, which is often misidentified as a soundtrack album but is in fact a completely (or nearly-completely) re-recorded audio adaptation, with a largely different cast, somewhat abridged (6 minutes shorter, though it can be argued that the cuts are not quite so severe, as they also condense some purely visual action sequences), employing much re-worked dialogue to aid the compression and to fill in for absent visuals (occasionally leading to radically rewritten scenes that cover the same dramatic territory, in particular the first White Rabbit sequence), and a slightly reduced orchestration of the songs (i.e. the shape and substance of the arrangements are essentially the same, but reconceived for and played by a smaller orchestra, lacking the TV show's harp, jazz organ [featured in the title song] and somewhat fuller complement of strings, brass and winds). The identical-sounding performances of the songs They'll Never Split Us Apart and Today's a Wonderful Day do, however, suggest that a certain small amount of soundtrack material may have been inserted for expedience.) It's likely that Bill Dana's teleplay was adapted for records by Charles Shows, a ubiquitous and major animation writer of the period, who wrote most of the story albums produced by Hanna-Barbera Records, and retains his usual "stories" credit on the back of the album cover. There has never been a second printing, re-release or digital release of the album.
Curiously, the cast changes and "road tour" orchestrations have little or no effect on how the songs and story are received by the listener; even without celebrities, the "hip take" on Alice in Wonderland retains its integrity, tone and impact (which may contribute to why the album is so often mistaken for a soundtrack). To particularize the cast changes: Where Sammy Davis, Jr. supplied the speaking and singing voice of the Cheshire Cat in the movie, he was constrained from appearing in the audio adaptation because he was under exclusive contract to Reprise Records at the time; but Scatman Crothers, not yet the celebrity he'd become via his subsequent sitcom work, provides an equal, if not better Cat, his rendition of the title song, What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? even a little more exuberant.
Where others of the TV show cast were concerned, there may have been additional issues involving contracts and royalties, because except for Bill Dana, all of the original celebrity performers were likewise replaced on the album by actors from Hanna-Barbera's stable of reliable A+ voice over actors: Don Messick voiced the White Rabbit (replacing Howard Morris with a performance obviously intended to be as close an imitation as possible); Henry Corden not only reprised Fred Flintstone's singing voice, but assumed his speaking voice as well (replacing Alan Reed; and indeed he would officially take over the voice of Fred in 1977, after Reed's death); the character of Hedda Hatter was cut, her material combined with that of the Mad Hatter, and the latter was voiced by Daws Butler (replacing Harvey Korman); and with Butler assuming the Hatter, Mel Blanc moved into Butler's previous role as the March Hare. No credit is listed on the cover for The Queen of Hearts, but given the austerity approach to the album, there can be little doubt that the Zsa Zsa Gabor soundalike was the famously versatile Janet Waldo (the voice of Alice) doing double duty.
The following voice actors and celebrities provided the voices for the following characters in the TV show:Mel Blanc: Barney Rubble
Daws Butler: King of Hearts, March Hare
Henry Corden: Fred Flintstone (singing voice)
Bill Dana: White Knight
Sammy Davis Jr.: Cheshire Cat
Doris Drew: Alice (singing voice)
Zsa Zsa Gabor: Queen of Hearts
Hedda Hopper: Hedda Hatter
Harvey Korman: Mad Hatter
Allan Melvin: Alice’s Father, Humphrey Dumpty
Don Messick: Dormouse, Fluff
Howard Morris: White Rabbit
Alan Reed: Fred Flintstone (speaking voice)
Janet Waldo: Alice (speaking voice)
Cast changes for the LP audio adaptation:Mel Blanc: March Hare (in addition to Barney Rubble)
Daws Butler: Mad Hatter (but not the March Hare)
Henry Corden: Fred Flintstone (speaking voice as well as singing voice)
Scatman Crothers: Cheshire Cat
Don Messick: White Rabbit (in addition to Fluff)
Janet Waldo: Queen of Hearts (in addition to Alice's speaking voice)
Life's a Game sung by Howard Morris (TV), Don Messick (LP) and Doris Drew (both).
What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. (TV), Scatman Crothers (LP)
They’ll Never Split Us Apart sung by Mel Blanc and Henry Corden (TV and LP)
Today's a Wonderful Day sung by Doris Drew and Bill Dana (TV and LP)
I'm Home sung by Doris Drew (TV and LP)
Incidental music composed and arranged by Hoyt S. Curtin. Songs arranged by Marty Paitch [Marty Paich]. Music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams.