Disney's association with Alice actually predates Mickey Mouse if you can believe it. And you should believe it, because I'm smart. Back when he was a struggling filmmaker out in Kansas, Walt Disney finally found something lucrative in a short he did incorporating a live-action girl with cartoon characters called 'Alice's Wonderland.' When he got financing, the Disney studio was born, and all the soon-to-be-infamous animators came in to work on the Alice Comedies, which were made in the early 20s. Disney never forgot about Alice; he actually wanted his first film to be a full-length Alice Comedy, but Snow White was favored instead. So finally thirty years after the original shorts, Disney brought Alice in Wonderland to the screen in its full animated glory, and it's damn good.
Alice is an English girl with her head in the clouds, less interested in her studies and more of an imaginary world where everything is topsy-turvy and makes no sense. Things get real once she spots a hustling white rabbit in a dashing jacket and large pocketwatch, and makes chase. Falling down the rabbit hole, she enters Wonderland, a strange exotic place where she runs into a myriad of crazy creatures, like the prose-telling twins Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb, the not-so-extinct Dodo, an impatient caterpillar with a knack for smoke rings, a not-very-helpful Cheshire Cat, a not-very-helpful-either Mad Hatter and March Hare, and of course the ever-temperamental Queen of Hearts.
In terms of its overall structure and feel, this is the polar opposite of 'Cinderella.' Despite all the padding, 'Cinderella' had its feet firmly planted in its linear story. This one is basically a series of vignettes featuring the different Wonderland characters, and it works fantastically. The movie wastes no time either; the White Rabbit shows up five minutes in and we're on our way. Now Alice might not have too much depth, but she works for the purposes of the story, as she is kind of a sub for the audience in their shared reactions to the wild nonsense occurring... even if she is a bit too cavalier about rapidly growing and shrinking in size.
The art and animation? Superb. All the scenes are so lush and colorful, not garish though, it all looks beautiful and other worldly. The characters are also fantastic in persona and in motion, between the Caterpillar's quiet indigence to how the Queen's face seems to deform when she bellowing at her subjects. These are really the best kinds of characters, the ones who you just relish every moment of screen time they have, and the great thing about this movie is that EVERY character is like that. Between their voice, their design and their movements, each one is just a treat to watch in action.
I was glad at how much the movie embraced nonsense. While I've certainly seen much weirder, I must applaud the film anyway. I can watch some of these scenes over and over (which I have, the tea party and caterpillar scenes especially). I also love how every proceeding eventually de-evolves into madness: the fantastic courtroom finale (which is a great design, by the way) features the tea party denizens as witnesses who were not even witnesses at all, and eventually even the hot-headed queen is submitting their non-testimonials as evidence and celebrating her unbirthday, while Alice just looks on, exasperated. She'd basically gone from doe-eyed wonderment to the start to just being fed up with the whole proceedings. Fantastic.
Verdict? So, so, so, so SO SO SO very good. Like 'Dumbo' and 'Bambi,' this one completely enraptured me, and I'm a sucker for strange and interesting characters, which this film is stuffed to the brim with. Watch this one immediately if you haven't seen it, especially since the new one's coming out soon. Tim Burton's got some act to follow, but he's already gone on record that he hates this version. I do like his movies... but he IS kind of a pretentious snob.