NOTE: There are various political, drug, and historical references throughout the story, and thus in this review.
All these questions and more not answered by this movie.
What plot? There isn’t really a plot, and that’s half the fun! The weird thing about this movie is all the parts with plot are actually more boring than those without. Half of the disparate parts come out of nowhere with characters we only see for a scene or two. There are some portions of the film that bog down with nonsense, go on for too long, and don’t really make sense or aren’t referenced later.
There are a lot of references to politics and history in the film, with the trial and the Queen being allegories to Victorian England, the Caucus Race having politics and voting written all over it, the Walrus and the Carpenter being a reference to either politics (voting once again) or religion (the Carpenter), and Tweedles Dee and Dum being people that force their own political or religious agendas on others, such as door-to-door Witnesses, protestors, or those guys that hand out free movie tickets on the sidewalk. This is a movie for children, however, so most of these references are drowned in sound, color, and quick movement.
What seriously does make sense is that the film has a very accurate dream structure, down to lucidity and even water near the end, up to not getting caught. It’s brilliant, but this film has bright colors and animation replace what would now be well-thought out plot points and characters. This is a streamlined adaptation of the Lewis Carroll book though, confusing plot and all.
My PLOT RATING is 4 / 5.
Alice is mostly a bland character, meant to be a stand-in for the audience watching the film. While she is as confused as the viewer, she has agency, and is a pretty alright protagonist. She mostly wanders around Wonderland meeting several different characters, and her reactions to them grow stronger as the film progresses, breaking the chaos of the land with logic at points.
The White Rabbit (Bill Thompson) is humorous because you can’t help feel for the poor guy. His house interior is destroyed, his watch ruined, and he’s a wreck throughout. He plays a variety of roles and is a constant, which is thankful in this character-filled film.
Tweedledee and Tweedledum are personally my favorites. Their quirky voices, primary-color clothing, and the honking noises they emit make them unique among the other residents of Wonderland. They have their own vernacular and way of speech, and an energetic pair of personalities, wanting to play games all the time, tell stories, and generally waste Alice’s time. I just love how she just ends up leaving them both, still telling their story.
The Caterpillar is memorable, and probably the start of the drug culture that consumed the film during the re-release in the late 70’s and early 80’s. His musing of “Who. Are. You?” are most likely the existential thoughts of the hookah rather than from the caterpillar, throwing Alice into a state of personal crisis later in the film. He turns into a butterfly, which doesn’t really add to his character growth, only changing his appearance.
The Cheshire Cat is especially memorable, and another favorite of mine. He’s voiced by (who else) Sterling Holloway, who does a brilliant job at the character. He phases in and out of existence, and whenever I see a waning moon, I think of his constant smile. He’s a phenomenal character with an air of mystery and whimsy to him. I thought he would be a big breakout character, but however…
The Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse are designed to be memorable breakout characters. They have a long segment dedicated to them, their own song, Ed Wynn, and clear, easy designs to remember. They are like a hurricane: once you meet them, you’ll be sucked into their madness. I’ve never understood their lasting popularity or focus in marketing. This is an ensemble cast, if anything, the film should focus on Alice and her reactions to others, which this showcases perfectly. Here in the film and elsewhere, they are too much of a good thing.
The Queen of Hearts, sadly, enters the film with 20 minutes or so left to spare. While she isn’t the villain for most of the film, her presence is mentioned and felt throughout. What I find is that her segment is the worst part of the film. The neatly laid chaos gives way to rigid order, and possibly this is by design, but it’s really jarring to find any semblance of government in Wonderland. She has a two-faced personality, sweet and kind at moments with a boiling-point temper beneath. This is probably yet another political reference to the Queen of England herself, trials and all, but her character is too little, too late to make too much of an impact.
Other minor characters only add to the over-stuffed cast list of the film, but memorable ones are the Doorknob, the Dodo, Bill the Lizard, the Flowers, the Cards, and the King of Hearts. I must mention the animals in the forest however, as they are all amazingly designed and really cool and adorable.
My CHARACTERS RATING is 4 / 5.
The dialogue is like nothing else. Everything is yelled, and each scene is complete chaos, but the dialogue holds it together. Each word is a piece of a larger, labyrinthian puzzle that needs study to put together. The dialogue is so unique to each character and each line is just gold. Characters do drag on and keep talking, however, and Alice has little to say outside of general confusion until halfway into the film.
My DIALOGUE RATING is 3 / 5.
I realize by now that the effects for these usually get high ratings, and it’s because they deserve it. The animation is all effects, yes, but this film keeps pushing it further and further.
The sense of scale is wonderful in this film. Alice growing and shrinking challenges the animators to push their art further, the giant glass table, the small trees, how good the White Rabbit’s house fits Alice to be aesthetically pleasing–All of it is brilliant. The color palette in this film is more vibrant than the rest, using bright colors rather than subdued ones and the backgrounds are all curves rather than straight lines, and the characters reflect this. The character designs are a lot of curves and curls, spots and stripes, and vibrant and vivid. It’s unlike anything Disney’s done before, and it just keeps getting better and better.
My EFFECTS RATING is 5 / 5.
“Main Title” – Classic Disney opener, still great… I still can’t get used to the RKO logo.
“In a World of My Own” – Alice’s song justifying her behavior and outlook. This is her cry for the normal to become abnormal, and an escape from the monotony of life, as she sees it. This song sets the tone for the rest of the film, telling the audience what is in store for them.
“I’m Late” – Catchy and cute. Bill Thompson is a treasure. White Rabbit’s little wave hear the end is adorable.
“The Caucus Race” / “We’ll Smoke the Blighter Out” – Good songs to hum and breakneck with it’s verbage. Constant words just flying out there, meaning nothing in the end, yet the second has some hilarious reactions from the White Rabbit.
“How D’Ye Do and Shake Hands” / “The Walrus and the Carpenter” – Both good songs that last a while, and once again, don’t really do anything for the plot in general.
“All in the Golden Afternoon” – Beautiful song from an unexpected source. I wish my flowers would sing that way.
“A-E-I-O-U (The Caterpillar Song)” / “How Doth the Little Crocodile” – Again, the drug culture. Very Zen, and also high-and-mighty as well. Good, but no great.
“‘Twas Brillig” – Fun and mysterious, and also part of “Jabberwocky”, a great poem.
“The Unbirthday Song” – Fun, catchy, and memorable. I love the whistling noises before the song. Energetic and really funny.
“Painting the Roses Red” – A jaunty march that heightens how evil and petty the Queen of Hearts is. The interjection of “WHAT?!” gets me every time.
The score is very good, and contains a lot of horns, whistles, and other less-used instruments.
My MUSIC RATING is 4 / 5.
Alice in Wonderland is better than what came before it, but not by much. There are still some things to be worked on. The film is way overstuffed with a nonsensical, almost vignette-like plot, way too many characters (even though mostly all of them are great), solid, but overdrawn dialogue, and almost too many songs. The only aspect of the film that’s ‘just right’ is the effects, that keep improving with advancements in animation and technology.
This film is too much sugar in the teacup. Too much growth / shrink formula in the food and drink. It could have used a little more on the cutting room floor, and a tighter focus on the characters that truly matter would really help this film become one of the true greats, instead of being an overstuffed and chaotic film.
My OVERALL RATING for Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” is 80%.
Next time, instead of Wonder, it’s Never.