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Jonathan Taylor Thomas,
Alice follows a white rabbit down a rabbit-hole into a whimsical Wonderland, where she meets characters like the delightful Cheshire Cat, the clumsy White Knight, a rude caterpillar, and the hot-tempered Queen of Hearts and can grow ten feet tall or shrink to three inches. But will she ever be able to return home? Written by
If you are reading this you are probably trying to decide if this 'Alice' adaptation is worth watching or you may have already watched it and are wondering about the reaction of other viewers.
It is the most faithful (to the book) adaptation so far (faint praise as most efforts might as well have been original screenplays) and the sets, special effects, make-up and Muppets are light-years better than what others have tried.
But all is not right with this version of 'Wonderland' so Carroll fans should not get their hopes up too high. The adaptation involves some subtraction and a lot of addition (or as the Mock Turtle would say some 'Ambition and Distraction'). Unfortunately what was added does not begin to compensate for what was left out, it only pads the running length.
They added three scenes from 'Through the Looking Glass'. Stuck between the 'Lobster Quadrille' and the 'Who Stole the Tarts' chapters are: 'Tweedledum and Tweedledee', 'The Walrus and The Carpenter', and 'It's My Own Invention' with the White Knight. So the original story takes a not very entertaining detour-although the Walrus-Carpenter bits are fun and it is interesting to see a pre-Hagrid Robbie Coltrane as Tweedledum. Fortunately they group the three scenes together and it is not as disruptive as placing them separately at different points in the story.
Historically, the model for the characters are the illustrations that Carroll commissioned John Tenniel to carve on wood blocks. Although Carroll based the personality of his title character on ten-year-old brunette Alice Liddell, Tenniel (with Carroll's concurrence) used another model and gave the illustrated Alice her features and her long blonde hair. Although the movie generally deferred to Tenniel's illustrations, they made a critical error in casting Tina Majorino as Alice. She was 13-14 during the filming and looks ludicrous in the role. She was also quite homely at that age and you are thankful that the director used mostly wide shots so you don't have her face filling the screen. Thankfully her acting is so flat that she does not call much attention to herself. But the overall effect would have been so much better if they had used a younger actress (could they have made it three years earlier and used a 10-11 year-old Kiera Knightley).
The movie works in spite of a poor Alice, in large part because of the other major deviation from the Tenniel look. That would be casting Miranda Richardson as the Queen of Hearts. Instead of a fat and ugly queen we get a delicately beautiful one, and a hauntingly over-the-top performance. But it works because the performance is consistent with Carroll's idea of the queen as: 'a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion-a blind and aimless Fury'.
And in her surreal make-up you can't take your eyes off Richardson (you literally focus on her face and see nothing else that is in the frame). Her performance was so inspired that she has been playing fairy tale queens ever since.
All the Muppet characters are excellent but for some reason they made Bill the Lizard a man instead of a muppet lizard. Did the producer owe someone a favor? Bill's scene at the Rabbits's House is the third best in the movie; only the croquet match and the trial are better.
And they messed with Carroll's dialogue for no useful purpose or discernible logic. For example they kept all the 'Mock Turtle's' puns, which are hard to follow even in print, while deleting some of the best lines from Alice's scene with the 'Cheshire Cat'; and the tea-party dialogue (and editing) is a shambles. You can't always tell when an original line was omitted but you can tell when something was added by the hack they hired to do the adaptation-all are stupid and some so modern that they are like hearing an off-key note on a flute.
Carroll's dialogue and Alice's thoughts are really the essence of the story.
Someday a director will shoot this thing with mega-reaction shots of Alice (played by a pleasing looking 'young' actress) and with voiceovers of her thoughts-then we will have something that really communicates Alice's curiosity, courage, kindness, intelligence, dignity, and sense of justice. Most important is to communicate her simple wonder (the only wonder about Majorino is how she got the role). The reader was meant to identify with these qualities but only Disney's Alice effectively exhibited them. It's sad when it is easier to identify with the book and with a cartoon Alice than with any of the actresses who have played the role.
Although some part of each chapter is included (Down the Rabbit-Hole, The Pool of Tears, The Caucus-Race, Little Bill, Advice from a Caterpillar, Pig and Pepper, A Mad Tea-Party, The Queen's Croquet-Ground, The Mock Turtle's Story, The Lobster Quadrille, Who Stole the Tarts, and Alice's Evidence), the bookend pieces of the story where Alice is not dreaming are missing. Instead there is a 'Wizard of Oz' kind of scene with the actors out of costume, playing guests at a garden party. This is done entirely to tie in with the writer's annoying artless addition of a preachy "the show must go on" theme which works to deflate each scene in which it is inserted.
This is the only unforgivable change to the story. Wonderland was not a process of self-discovery or personal development, it was a gift to the real Alice (and to future children) and should always end with the thoughts of Alice's older sister after hearing the details of the dream: 'Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman, and how she would keep, through all the years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days'. This is Carroll telling us why he made up the story.
Bottom line it is the best of the Alice films, a little too long but still worth watching-especially for the Miranda Richardson scenes.
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