1968 was the peak of the mainstreaming of psychedelia, even if the Summer of Love was quickly turning into a time of revolution and violence around the world. Drugs – the happy, trippy ones and the rather nastier ones alike – were everywhere, when a few years earlier they would be something that the average family might have never expected to encounter. This was cause for concern for middle America, who feared – with good reason, to be fair – that their kids were on the edge of a very slippery slope into addiction, brain-frying psychedelics and worse. Something needed to be done, clearly, and the anti-drug educational propaganda aimed at kids stepped up a gear – and continued for decades with increasingly hysterical and finger-wagging moralising.
One of the oddest films to appear at the height of the psychedelic age was Curious Alice, directed by Dave Dixon for the National Institute of Mental Health. For reasons best known to the filmmakers, they decided that the best way of putting kids off drugs was to take the Alice in Wonderland story and turn it into a drug-laden animated film. Perhaps they thought that the nightmarish images would traumatise kids and ensure that they’d never want to take a trip, but of course, the psychedelic era was awash with Alice in Wonderland acid-tinged whimsey and this film often feels more like a backing film from a Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd show than a warning to the curious. Having the Mad Hatter and the March Hare offering you pills was not the sort of thing that would put many kids off.
Drug movies were never the sort of thing to have street cred, and in general are either laughably twee or hysterically over-the-top, so Curious Alice is fairly unique in being weird, entertaining and seriously trippy. It clearly didn’t do what it was officially supposed to do, but it remains a unique experience.