Watch Curious Alice, Perhaps the Worst (Best?) Anti-Drug Film Ever Made

Released in 1971 by the National Institute of Mental Health, "Curious Alice" was supposed to educate children on the perils of drug abuse. Instead, through a series of creative missteps, it managed to equate a drug trip with a phantasmagoria of whimsy and discovery, missing its intended mark in truly spectacular fashion.

Media Matters' Audrey Amidon dissects the film's assorted blunders in a blog post for the National Archives:

In Curious Alice (1971)... 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?

To further confuse the message, Curious Alice somehow has too much and not enough information at the same time. Instead of focusing on situations relevant to children, the film devotes screen time to teaching kids what drugs look like and what they're called. But really, would the average third-grader understand that the hypodermic needle the King of Hearts is carrying like a scepter isn't filled with the same stuff as their shots at the doctor's office? Or that the sugar cube at the Mad Hatter's tea party is laced with LSD? The finer point of how the drugs differ from every day items is not apparent.

Amidon continues with her analysis, but the upshot is that Curious Alice, in spite of its bungled delivery, is actually quite good – and not just in its badness. The film's animation, after all, is excellent; its seemingly incompetent narrative borderline poetic; its thematic structure so perfectly unhinged as to rouse suspicion that the folks at Design Center Incorporated (where Curious Alice was written, designed and produced) knew exactly what sort of film they were handing over to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the NIMH.

[Media Matters via MeFi]