Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Alice in Audioland, Part Two

Two of the most disappointing moments in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) are when Avril Lavigne’s uninspired “Alice” plays over the film’s end credits, and when Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter breaks into a cringe-inducing “futterwacken” dance. There is little doubt that both are motivated by strategies of corporate synergy: the Lavigne track serves as a marketing tool in music videos and soundtrack releases; and the dance has become the key to a “Single Ladies”-style viral marketing campaign in Disney’s buildup to the film’s DVD release (see the “Show Us Your Futterwacken” contest at http://alicedance.disney.go.com/). It’s a shame that neither the song nor the dance were integrated into the film with any kind of subtlety or coherence, given that Lewis Carroll’s books are essentially musicals: think of the violent lullaby the Duchess sings to her child; the Mad Hatter’s “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat”; the Lobster-Quadrille; the songs of the Mock Turtle and the White Knight; and the grand choruses sung in praise of Queen Alice. Maybe Burton and Disney didn’t take the synergistic possibilities of the project far enough. What if the film had been conceived as a gigantic mashup of contemporary popular music and Carroll’s narrative universe? Lou Reed as the caterpillar, Lady Gaga as the Red Queen, Dizzee Rascal as the Mad Hatter, Noel and Liam Gallagher as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Missy Elliott as the White Queen, Willie Nelson as the Cheshire Cat, Jack White as the White Rabbit, Joanna Newsom as Alice… I know – this is starting to sound like a recipe for disaster along the lines of the dreadful 1978 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” film starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, but an Alice musical could make for a more coherent kind of media industry synergy and could provide a narrative form that lends itself to Carroll’s lyrical and episodic stories.

In this second installment of audio adaptations of Alice’s adventures, I offer an Alice/musical mashup in the form of Decca’s 1944 children’s record, “Alice in Wonderland,” featuring Hollywood musical icon Ginger Rogers in the title role. Rogers’ performance is nothing to write home about, and the musical setting of “How doth the little crocodile” isn’t particularly inspired, but it makes me wonder how the scene might have worked if Carroll’s poem had been set to music by say, Timbaland or Aphex Twin. Bonus points for identifying the voice of the White Rabbit (or should I say, White Wabbit).