Wonderland Turns Urban

I’ve been meaning to review Alice for literally months–I watched it during the Once Upon a Time Challenge and have had it on my “To Review” list ever since.  But don’t take the long delay as a bad sign about the movie.  It’s actually excellent.

Alice is a version of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, retold for adults with a more urban, modern feel.  It definitely feels like it’s targeting adults, although as I think about it, nothing’s really inappropriate for a younger audience.  At the same time, it’s not the light-hearted, happy Wonderland of Disney.  The real deciding factor on the target age-group may be Alice’s age.  This Alice is a grown-up, and one with much more purpose than the wandering child of Carroll’s story.

Alice (Caterina Scorsone) is from the modern world we all recognize.  Her life takes an unexpected turn when boyfriend Jack is abducted, right after giving Alice a mysterious and valuable-appearing ring.  A strange man tries to steal the ring and when Alice chases him, she falls through the Looking Glass into a very odd Wonderland.  She finds out that people from our world are being captured and taken to Wonderland, where the Queen of Hearts drains their emotions, which she uses to pacify Wonderland’s inhabitants.  Alice joins forces with the Hatter (Andrew Lee Potts), who says he can connect her with a resistance movement who’ll help her find Jack.

As I type this, I realize it sounds very convoluted!  Basically, Alice goes journeying through adventures in Wonderland looking for Jack, with Hatter and, later on, a White Knight as companions.  Along the way, they get tangled up in much bigger forces opposing the Queen of Hearts.

The characters are wonderful here.  Almost all the characters from the original are here in some capacity, but given a modern twist.  Everyone’s human, but somehow embodies the original characters as well.  Alice is tough, but vulnerable.  Her father disappeared when she was young and she never stopped looking for him, something that gives her good depth as a character.  She has trust issues and insecurities, while being a strong lead who takes an active role in her adventures.

The Queen of Hearts is a delightfully insensitive villain, played by Kathy Bates, paired with Colm Meaney as the King of Hearts.  If the name doesn’t mean anything to you, you might know him as Chief O’Brien from Star Trek.  If you can’t picture him as a villain, that’s okay, he’s not exactly.  He really just wants to make his wife happy, and it’s just rather unfortunate that his wife is so horrible.

My favorite character, though, is the Hatter.  Not at first, but he’s one of those who grows on you.  And I’m such a sucker for heroes who claim they don’t care about anything even though it’s SO not true.

There are some dark moments in here, but also a lot of comic ones.  There also must be quite a bit of CGI, because Wonderland is very bizarrely laid out.  It’s sort of…vertical.  I don’t quite know how else to explain it.  A whole city of terraces and chasms but not even as logical as that makes it sound.  Whatever it is, it’s really quite interesting.

This was originally a SyFy channel miniseries, with two hour-and-a-half episodes.  I saw it on DVD and it was just put together as a three-hour movie, so I’m not sure what the original break between episodes was.  Despite that, I do think the second episode was better.  It’s good from the beginning, but it’s also a little haphazard at first.  The second half has more focus, and the characters (well, Hatter) have become more engaging by that point.  So if you start it and have doubts, stay with it!

There are a lot of Alice in Wonderland retellings out there, and this was a very different one.  If you like Alice or if you like urban fantasy (because that’s definitely the feel), I’d recommend giving it a try!

Other reviews:
Fray’s Movie Reviews
Love Romance Passion
Divergent Musings
Anyone else?

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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4 Responses to Wonderland Turns Urban

  1. dianem57 says:

    Sounds like an interesting and unusual re-telling of the children’s story. You didn’t mention the Cheshire Cat. Does he make an appearance in some human form?

    • The Cheshire Cat was actually the one disappointment–there’s a very brief sequence with a cat who does a manic grin once. And that was really it. The Cheshire Cat was the one character I feel like they kind of missed.

  2. Carl V. says:

    I’m definitely a fan of reworkings/retellings/reimaginings of the Alice story. Just recently finished playing the Alice: Madness Returns video game and loved experiencing that. There is something universal about the story and I love the visual elements and symbolism to be explored. Hadn’t heard that they did this one but you’ve got me intrigued.

    • I’d never heard of this one either until a friend handed me the DVD. I’m glad I watched it though, and I’m not even particularly attached to the original. I think you’d really enjoy how they played with it!

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