Alice in Wonderland has always been one of my personal favourite tales from when I was a wee young thing until now, and I don’t see that changing really at any point in my life. However, I am a little on the fence when it comes to re-tellings, or expansions, to the Wonderland ‘mythos’ as it were, as it can sometimes feel like the name Wonderland has been thrown in to ensure a quick sale. What we are looking at, today, however, does not do that. I’ve briefly mentioned this before when we looked at Disney’s animated adaptation of the novel, but here is a proper review on the 2009 SyFy (random side note; personally, will never get used to that spelling) mini-series, Alice.
First thing to note is that Alice is not a re-telling of the original tales, it is a continuation. The events of this mini-series, about 3 hours in length, take place roughly 150 years after the events of the original novel. Okay, so it’s actually more like 144 years, if we want to be exact, but the round number has a nicer sound to the ears. Wonderland has changed a lot in that time period, and while there is still an element of nonsense to the world, it’s also become a darker place. The citizens of Wonderland are kept complacent and happy, fed on emotions harvested from Oysters – people from the ‘real’ world – by the Queen of Hearts and the Happy Hearts Casino. You are either part of this world of instant gratification, or you don’t exist.
Alice Hamilton is a 20-something who lives with her mother, and whose boyfriend was stolen away by a man who lead her through a mirror to Wonderland. Marked as an Oyster, the only way she has a chance of finding her boyfriend, and making it home safely is with the help of the Hatter, who runs an emotion tea shop.
Yes, that is the briefest summary that can be given of the mini-series, without really falling prey to too many spoilers. Alice is genuinely brilliantly done, and the world building is subtle enough for the viewer to understand what Wonderland is like, without really spelling it all out to them. The writer of this mini-series knew the source material well, and references and homages to the original Alice in Wonderland are clear throughout the mini-series, including the Jabberwock design being the exact same as the Tenniel illustration of the creature.
The casting is wonderful, with Kathy Bates playing a particularly petualant but still menacing Queen of Hearts, who feels so secure in her power but knows that everything is delicately resting on the continued production of Oyster Emotions. The real star, personally, is Andrew-Lee Potts as the Hatter. He’s suave and cool, but also a bit of a dork, and frankly kind of adorable. His motivations for doing what he does as mixed and while we don;t find out his full back-story in the series proper, there are heavy hints. Alice herself, of course, is wonderful. A very confident young woman, who finds her issues being pressed by her time in Wonderland, forcing her not only to confront them, but also to deal with them, regardless of whether she actually wants to or not.
The design of this Wonderland is also very memorable, being more of a built-up mess of a city than anything you would actually mentally align with the place name. Oh, there is a place of wonder that is visited during the course of the 3 hours, but it is in ruins, destroyed by a war, now only a shadow of it’s former glory. It’s really on seeing this place that Alice realises she needs to do something to help, but there is more of a kicker when she is given visual evidence as to how they actually get the emotions they feast on.
Overall, this really is not the Alice in Wonderland you’d be expecting. However, that is to the mini-series’ credit. It pays tribute to the original, keeping in line with what was set up in those stories, while building on it. It creates a whole new Wonderland for people to view, and enjoy, and it stands up to repeated viewings, always catching some new little thing that you hadn’t before. Definitely worth viewing, if you get the chance of getting it on DVD.
Z McAspurren (Seriously, favourite interpretation of Alice in Wonderland ever)