PLOT: Alice has been away from Wonderland for a very long time. In fact, to her, it is merely a strange dream she had when she was a child. But now, as a nineteen-year-old woman, she has found herself back to that whimsical place with a smiling Cheshire Cat and a Mad Hatter. But all is not well in Wonderland. The wicked Red Queen has taken over, and it seems only one person can reawaken the beauty lost and fight the Jabberwocky. Is this Alice really the one they’ve been waiting for?
REVIEW: Alice Kingsley (Mia Wasikowski) has suffered a series of strange dreams all her life. From when she was a child, she dreamed of a bizarre, and sometimes terrifying world with a talking blue caterpillar, a white rabbit who always seems to be late, and a hat maker who is just a little bonkers. It is the only dream she has ever had. Is it normal for people to have only one dream, she asks early on in the film. But nothing is really normal about Alice. She is a unique girl who doesn’t want to wear a corset or stockings, and she feels it is her right to make her own decisions. Remember, this takes place in a very different time when that was not a popular belief for a young lady. And when she finds that she is going to be proposed to by a wealthy suitor at a party thrown in their honor (a fact she is unaware of), she can‘t decide what to do. As the question of marriage is asked, Alice seemingly grows faint, and she quickly runs off. When she has run far away from her would be husband, she is distracted by the supposed hopping little animal that nobody else can see. Following the little critter, she finds a large tree with a deep hole down at the bottom of it. You know what they say about curiosity…
Tim Burton has always been able to create some wild and wonderful worlds. With a strange twist on reality, he creates a gothic fairy tale that offers a penchant for the morbid, its not surprising to see him take on another classic story. Yet his re-envisioning of ALICE IN WONDERLAND is also a beautiful tribute to the original children's story by Lewis Carroll. With a script written by Linda Woolverton (THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and MULAN) there is just as much of Carroll in the heart of Alice as there is Burton. There is a sadness deep down that is not exactly what you’d expect. Burton’s Alice has grown and she questions all those around her. She is a very fitting, modern day heroine in a world that is familiar, yet strange. Once she arrives in Underland - young Alice mistakenly thought her dream world was called “Wonderland” - she is questioned as to whether she is truly “Alice“. It seems that she is not the only one asking questions. But the truth is, she can hardly believe that she has fallen deep into the earth in this fantasy world. Of course, this must be another dream.
And yes, this is unmistakably a Tim Burton film, in glorious 3D no less. And with Carroll’s influence, it is a rich and whimsical story about accepting oneself and not running away. While the opening sequence feels straight out of a Victorian period piece, Wonderland itself is such an awe-inspiring sight. I have to admit that it seemed like it might just be too much when I originally saw the trailer. With so many computer generated effects, it looked as though it would never live up to the beauty that it could be. Thankfully, I was wrong. The effects look as if they came straight out of a storybook. The colors have dimmed a little, especially at the classic “tea party” because Underland is ruled by a wicked and merciless Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). She has left much of what was bright and blooming, scorched and lifeless. I would have to say that one minor complaint I’d have would be that some scenes looked a little too dark. This was especially true is some of the more ravaged places in Underland.
As magnificent as the film looks, the cast of characters is equally impressive. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter gives a wonderful performance that is actually enhanced by the effects of the film. The way he speaks and the design of his face seems to changes along with his mood. This is a perfect role for Depp, and it continues to show how effective a team he and Burton make. I also really enjoyed the supporting characters, notably Alan Rickman as The Caterpillar, Crispin Glover as The Knave of Hearts, Stephen Fry as The Cheshire Cat and of course, a wonderful duo performance from Matt Lucas as Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Lucas plays both roles with charm and vulnerability. I loved these characters. But it is The Red Queen, played by Bonham Carter that shines the brightest. Her childlike villain is brilliantly played in all its giant head glory. And what a sight that giant head is. Once you see her very first moments on screen you’ll be completely enthralled with this fantastic performance. The tart bit is hilarious.
I really loved Wonderland. It is a big, brash, eye-popping world that feels right at home in RealD. The 3D effects were quite impressive, but I think that 2D will be just fine for some. I also appreciated that this does not simply feel like just a Tim Burton film, because he wisely accepts the influences of the original story. In fact, some of the original Disney animation seems to be honored here. As far as children’s movies go, I have to say that this will be good for most of the young ones. Even with one or two scary moments, I think that they will find much to love, as will their parents or guardians. It is nice to see Depp and Burton continue to put a different spin on an already treasured story (SLEEPY HOLLOW, SWEENEY TODD). I won’t be surprised if Alice In Wonderland finds itself courted by several gold statues come Oscar time, at least for technical achievement. From a visual stance, there are few things not to love in Wonderland. But it is not simply a pretty picture, Alice is also a modern day fairy tale for men, women and children alike. Happily, it is a brilliant companion piece to Walt Disney’s original classic… drug references and all. My rating 9/10 -- JimmyO