The Campfire Classic adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland lands firmly in the realm of mediocrity. The art (by Rajesh Nagulakonda) and scripting (by Lewis Helfand) both succeed in the task of relaying the basic plot of Carroll’s novel, but don’t accomplish much beyond that. It’s hard to imagine a reader who’d be particularly excited by this book.
The book has some good qualities. The script maintains the novel’s Victorian style of language, which works well. Much of the fun of the novel depends on carefully constructed wordplay or the juxtaposition of formal language and absurd action, so it simply wouldn’t do for all the characters to use modern language. In this adaptation the dialog sticks closely to Carroll’s original while the narration loosens up just a little — enough to make itself more easily understood but not enough to lose the desired tone. It’s also worth noting that Helfand doesn’t take any liberties with the novel’s plot. This may seem a low bar, but it’s tripped up many an adaptation in the past.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of other textual merits to point to. To hit all of the major plot points in just 68 pages requires a rather brisk pace. The brisk pace means each scene is pared down to the bare minimum of actions and key lines. This robs the story of much of its immersive nonsensical charm and highlights the lack of narrative structure. Alice in Wonderland is not founded upon a logical progression of plot and suffers greatly when reduced to what are essentially bullet-points of the novel’s important moments.
The art ranges from decent to poor. The character designs aren’t very interesting and the artist has trouble drawing them consistently. This is particularly obvious with Alice as she’s in nearly every frame. Her face distorts wildly, often looking either haggard and old or ill and tired. The backgrounds and settings are dull, often just a simple wash of color. In the positive column, the colors are appropriately vibrant. In some scenes the panels are laid out in interesting ways — they become fluid and amorphous when Alice talks to the caterpillar and fall out of the grid as the Chesire Cat disappears.
Apart from its own merits and flaws, this book is bound to suffer from the devotion of the novel’s fans as well as the ubiquity of the Disney version. Helfand and Nagulakonda simply don’t do enough to stake their own claim to well-trod territory. Their neutral cartoony adaptation is too unambitious and technically flawed to impress Alice’s existing fans or to really grab the attention of new readers.