Alice in Wonderland

Cast:
Johnny Depp as Mad Hatter
Mia Wasikowska as Alice
Helena Bonham Carter as Red Queen
Anne Hathaway as White Queen
Crispin Glover as Stayne – Knave of Hearts
Matt Lucas as Tweedledee / Tweedledum
Stephen Fry as Cheshire Cat
Michael Sheen as White Rabbit
Alan Rickman as Blue Caterpillar
Barbara Windsor as Dormouse
Paul Whitehouse as March Hare
Timothy Spall as Bayard
Marton Csokas as Charles Kingsleigh
Tim Pigott-Smith as Lord Ascot
Lindsay Duncan as Helen Kingsleigh
Geraldine James as Lady Ascot
Leo Bill as Hamish
Frances de la Tour as Aunt Imogene
Jemma Powell as Margaret Kingsleigh
John Hopkins as Lowell
Eleanor Gecks as Faith Chattaway
Eleanor Tomlinson as Fiona Chattaway
Michael Gough as Dodo Bird
Imelda Staunton as Tall Flower Faces
Christopher Lee as Jabberwocky

Directed by Tim Burton

Summary:
While the script for “Alice in Wonderland” has some issues, it’s a great looking film that’s worth checking out for both adults and kids.

Story:
Thirteen years after Alice’s first adventure in Wonderland, she has forgotten almost all of her experiences there and chalked the whole thing up to a silly child’s dream. Now at the age of 19 she’s being pushed to marry a boring young man who she has nothing in common with. To make matters worse, she’s pressured into accepting his proposal in front dozens of London’s upper crust. But when she spots a white rabbit nearby, she flees the scene and quickly finds herself falling down the rabbit hole again.

When she arrives in Wonderland, it’s all more or less new to her. However, the inhabitants of the world have been eagerly awaiting her return. You see, they’re expecting her to save them from the evil Red Queen and her invincible dragon named Jabberwocky. Still believing it all to be a dream, Alice is reluctant to get involved. Yet she finds she has no choice in the matter when the Red Queen’s forces attack. Will Alice choose to save the day or continue to turn away from her destiny?

“Alice in Wonderland” is rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.

What Worked:
Without question “Alice in Wonderland” delivers best on its visual effects. Every frame of the film is picture perfect from the backgrounds to the characters to the costumes. I loved the re-imagining of each of the familiar characters from the Blue Caterpillar to the red and white knights. But my particular favorite was the Cheshire Cat. You can’t help but love the thing as it purrs while lazily floating through the air as if it were in zero gravity, then disappearing in a puff of smoke. The costumes are quite impressive, too. It’s most notable with Alice who must go through 6 or 7 costume changes, all of which give her dramatically different looks. Many of them are necessitated by her changes in size, and that also creates an interesting challenge with the backgrounds. In one scene she may be a giant and everything must be quite small. In another scene she may be teeny tiny and every blade of grass must be enormous. I was impressed with how they were able to deliver on every front with the visuals.

There were two standouts for me among the cast. The first was Helena Bonham Carter as Red Queen. She’s so over the top that you can’t help but get a chuckle out of her each time she’s on the screen. How can you not love a character that constantly yells, “Off with their head!” or demands that pigs act as footstools or monkeys act as furniture? The other standout for me was Anne Hathaway as White Queen, and that really surprised me. I went into the movie thinking she was a bad casting choice. But she won me over. In one scene she’d be floating regally around like your standard Disney royalty, arms perfectly poised. In the next moment she’d be hocking a loogee in a magical potion or gagging a little as she collected blood from a monster. Those little touches added some fun humor to the movie.

I didn’t think the 3-D was as important to this movie as it was “Avatar,” but it didn’t hurt the film either. In fact, I actually flinched when the March Hare unexpectedly threw a teacup at the screen. I would definitely recommend seeing it in 3-D if possible.

I took my two young boys to this movie and they enjoyed it quite a bit. I expected them to be reluctant to see it since there was a girl as the lead. But by the end they enjoyed it quite a lot. They even said that their favorite scene was seeing Alice battle the Jabberwocky. So I think that’s a big win for Disney with this movie. They’ve created a strong heroine that both boys and girls can look up to. She’s no Ripley or Sarah Connor, but she’ll do!

What Didn’t Work:
I think “Alice in Wonderland” has several moments where it suffers from an identity crisis. First of all, I actually had trouble at the beginning figuring out whether this was a sequel or a remake. The first half of the film seems to follow the original Alice story almost beat for beat. It has all the same gags, introduction of characters, etc. It wasn’t until the characters started saying she had been there before that you definitively knew it was a sequel. Following those familiar beats made it somewhat predictable. In fact, the first half of the film simply seems like a showcase of the old familiar characters as they are rolled out one by one without advancing the plot very much. That being said, it’s when the movie starts to break new ground that it starts to have some new problems. The big battle at the end between the Red and White Queens’ armies starts to feel a lot like “The Chronicles of Narnia” right down to the heroines wearing armor and swinging swords. Then, in the end, it takes another bizarre turn and we see Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter doing a funky dance while jamming to modern music. Considering everything up till that point had been exclusively Danny Elfman’s orchestral score, it felt incredibly out of place. It needed to feel more like “Wonderland” at the end than it did.

Speaking of Depp, his performance is all over the map in this movie. I suppose it’s what you’d expect from the character considering he’s ‘mad,’ but even parts of this seemed a bit much. Besides the aforementioned dance to modern music, his accent is all over the place. One minute he’s using a proper formal British accent, the next he’s bellowing in Scottish brogue. One minute he’s a loon, the next he’s quite serious. Again, it’s a hard performance to critique since he’s supposed to be mad, but I can say I didn’t fall in love with the character like I expected to.

I went into this movie fully expecting some weird moments, but there were a couple that even I thought were extremely weird, especially for a Disney children’s movie. In once scene as Alice is being charged by a large beast, Dormouse flies out of nowhere, stabs it in the eye with a pin, and plucks its eye out. In another scene, in order for Alice to get into the castle while shrunk down to tiny size, she must hop across a bunch of severed heads floating in the moat. Just to add the icing on the cake, she missteps and her foot goes into goo in one head’s mouth. It seemed a bit gory for an otherwise lighthearted film. Parents of small kids may want to be forewarned.

I’ll also add that I thought Mia Wasikowska was pretty good as Alice. She’s beautiful and looks great when put amid the amazing Wonderland scenery. The only problem is her performance lacks energy and life. I wished she had been a bit more animated in a few scenes where she should be yelling or laughing or reacting with more emotion than she does. But I have to say the blame for that lies more with Tim Burton than Wasikowska.

The Bottom Line:
Is “Alice in Wonderland” worth checking out? Yes, especially in 3-D. Is it a perfect film? Nope, but its flaws don’t drag it down enough to completely ruin it.

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