Lewis Carroll's "Alice" stories have never made a totally satisfactory transition to the cinema, perhaps because a great deal of their strength lies in wordplay and mathematical underpinnings that are simply more at home on the page than on the screen. This version of Alice in Wonderland is fairly faithful to the letter of Carroll's work, but it neither captures the original's spirit nor comes up with a unique spirit of its own. The screenplay is also decidedly choppy, which is one of the dangers in filming a story as episodic as this, and it feels as if there were too many hands working on it. That said, the physical production itself is a marvel, especially for its time, with lavish sets, effects', and costumes (and a delightful animated sequence by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising). The all-star cast is somewhat wasted, as the elaborate costumes make most of the actors unrecognizable, and the parts do not necessarily call for star performers, but it still is fun to pick out the big (and not so big) names. Charlotte Henry is a very fine Alice, capturing both her precocity and her petulance and helping to anchor the film. Of the stars, best are W.C. Fields, who seems quite at home with the absurdity of his dialogue, and Gary Cooper, cast against dashing type as a senile knight. Even though Alice is uneven, there are a number of segments -- the drowning in tears, the surrealistic climax, etc. -- that work quite well.
by Craig Butler review