Alice's adventures in Wonderland have always been easy to visualize, thanks to Tenniel's classic illustrations; but they have been difficult to realize. With computer technology at the state it's at at the turn of the twenty-first century, for the first time Tenniel can come to life in a way that doesn't look like animation.
This is the best looking "Alice" ever. The backgrounds are consistently excellent. The passage from one episode to the other is suitably dreamlike. The computer-animated characters are superb.
The cast is variable. Tina Majorina was a revelation as Alice. I had to check imdb to make sure she wasn't just someone like Reese Witherspoon, an older actress able to look ten years younger. Her performance was exquisite, even better than Fiona Fullerton's 1972 Alice.
Martin Short was good as the Mad Hatter (everyone has a favorite Mad Hatter from days past, and mine was Robert Helpmann from 1972, who also played the child-catcher in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"). All the royalty were good. Problems in the cast were Gene Wilder; it might've been his most understated performance since his droll turn as Willie Wonka, but good as he was, he was nevertheless out of place and looked ridiculous and uncomfortable in his costume. Too, though Whoopi Goldberg wasn't bad as the Cheshire cat, the point of her performance was to show Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire cat rather than the cat itself.
The "Looking Glass" intrusions weren't out of place. A miniseries doing "Wonderland" one night and "Looking Glass" the next might've been nice, but the best elements were taken from "LG" and the results don't look patched in. The cameos, again, are variable. Robbie Coltrane is an actor too little used and it's good to see him anywhere; and though I might've preferred to see him in a dual role, he worked well with George Wendt as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Christopher Lloyd was perfectly cast as the White Knight, but the White Knight got short shrift and was hardly worth sticking in at all, other than -- once more -- to say, "Look, we got Christopher Lloyd in a thankless role!". "The Walrus and the Carpenter" was not at all distracting -- and with Peters Ustinov and Postlethwait one would almost wish for a whole movie just about them.
The problems, however, do keep it from being the authoritative "Alice". For one thing, someone thought it would be clever to add lines. In most filmed novels this isn't so bad, since the dialogue in books serves a different purpose than the dialogue in movies. But Carroll's dialogue is so precise he might've been writing a play; and it's so well known that any extraneous line stands out like re-writings in "Hamlet". One gets the idea that the writers thought they were as clever as Carroll, and proved that the most notable thing about them was their collective ego.
This led to particular difficulties with the caterpillar. Ben Kingsley was a good choice for the role and -- like everyone else in the movie -- was very good. But his part seemed altered enough to make one suspicious of the writers' intentions. The framing sequence wasn't bad (again, perhaps a whole movie with that cast in non-Wonderland parts would be wonderful), not as bad as Carroll purists would say, but was unnecessarily preachy, as if the story had to have a moral at the end.
A number of roles in the "Alice" books should, when performed, have human performers: The Mad Hatter, the King and Queen and Jack of Hearts, the Duchess, Tweeledum and --dee, the White Knight, et. al. Some, since we have the technology, should be done by computer graphics, with famous voices, if need be. Star-studded "Alice" vehicles have appeared in the past: the top-heavy 1985 Natalie Gregory "Alice", for instance, where a famous actor's face had to be seen in every role; and the notable 1972 Fiona Fullerton bomb, where many of Britain's finest actors (including Peter Sellers and Ralph Richardson) made complete fools of themselves.
Overall, this is the best Alice ever made (including Disney's). It has dreadful moments where famous actors are shoehorned into roles just to say they're there. It has peculiar elements from "Looking Glass" mixed in at odd angles, but such as they are they aren't terrible. And it has a beautifully talented Alice. For those who aren't dogmatic about their Carroll, this is the one to see if you're looking for an "Alice" to pass an afternoon. And children, who don't know any better than we opinionated adults, will be delighted.
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