STARRING: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Michael Sheen, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, Christopher Lee, Matt Lucas, Timothy Spall, Marton Csokas, Jemma Powell, Tim Piggot-Smith, Lindsay Duncan, Geraldine James, Leo Bill, Paul Whitehouse, Barbara Windsor

2010, 108 Minutes, Directed by:
Tim Burton

Alice in Wonderland is simply, um, wonderful . . .

It might come as a surprise, but director Tim (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice) Burton has never been a fan of the original 1950s Disney animated Alice in Wonderland.

In an interview he admitted that he always felt previous film adaptations were simply a case of a girl wandering around from one crazy character to another.

“I never felt any real emotional involvement,” the director said. “So I wanted to really to give it some framework and emotional grounding that I felt had never been seen in any previous versions. I want to make a movie of Alice that’s more of a story than just a series of weird events.”

Burton succeeds in doing this by making his new special effects blockbuster starring A-list stars such as Johnny Depp more of a sequel of sorts than a straightforward adaptation of the original Alice books, or remake of the 1951 Disney movie.

Although we don’t like the phrase, the term “re-imagining” is applicable here. This is an Alice unlike the previous Alice in Wonderlands we have seen.

Director Burton’s version picks up about 13 years after the events of the original movie. Alice is no longer a little girl, but a young woman who has to cope with stifling Victorian social attitudes and a hypochondriac suitor who wants her hand in marriage.

During a reception at which said suitor awkwardly proposes to her Alice spots, yes, a white rabbit and follows it down to, yes, Wonderland.

Things have however changed in Wonderland or “Underland” as its inhabitants call it . . .

The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has grown more despotic and cruel in the interim years and even had her own husband beheaded. She is in open warfare with the White Queen (a ropey Anne Hathaway) and it is only Alice, with some help from her long-forgotten friends such as the Mad Hatter (Depp), who can break the stalemate by slaying the Red Queen’s dreaded Jabberwocky dragon . . .

"A great return to form for director Tim Burton!"

This new Alice movie is more action-driven than previous versions. Alice, action heroine may not be quite what Lewis Carroll had in mind, but it works well.

This approach might irk literary purists, but it does give Alice in Wonderland a more filmic approach. It also solves the problem that dogged previous adaptations, namely that the story do come across simply as a girl walking around aimlessly. This Alice has direction and purpose.

Also likely to irk anal purists is the gothic veneer that Tim Burton has supplied to the movie.

Color palettes are more muted and less vibrant than one would expect. Gnarled trees claw at cloudy skies. This Alice in Wonderland is simply too scary for small children and it is recommended that parents heed the applicable age restrictions. In one scene a miniature Alice crosses a moat by jumping from one severed head floating in the water to the next for instance! (Well, where did you think all those heads go whenever the Red Queen yells “off with her heads”?)

But this is more likely to displease those who know Alice in Wonderland from the cheery and sanitized Disney version. Viewers who have read the books (first published in 1865) will know that there is something vaguely disturbing about Lewis Carroll’s original works, which is why an author such as Grant Morrison so extensively quoted them in his dark and brooding gothic Arkham Asylum Batman graphic novel for instance.

That doesn’t mean that this “darker” Alice is gloomy however. Quite the contrary.

Tim Burton perfectly maintains the sense of surreal whimsy and surreal wordplay that inspired anything from Dollhouse episodes to druggy Jefferson Airplane songs throughout the years.

Unlike the other recent mega-budget 3-D adap of a literary classic by Disney, namely Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol, this one is actually fun, damn it!

It also lives up to the hype and is well worth seeing. The film is a technical marvel, the special effects brilliantly and seamlessly executed bringing Burton’s reimagining of Carroll’s bizarre universe to wonderful life.

Part of the problem with any Alice in Wonderland movie is also that the material is by now over-familiar to modern audiences thanks to countless movie and cartoon adaptations. This new version however displays some real imagination and inventiveness in bringing old familiar figures such as the Cheshire Cat and Tweedledum and Tweedledee to stunning life.

The human element however never gets lost between all the technical marvels on display.

Newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice does well, but it is the OTT performance by Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and her bulbous oversized head that so obviously steals the show. She is clearly having fun here and so will the audience.

Alice in Wonderland is a great return to form for director Tim Burton and is good enough to make one forgive him for that silly Planet of the Apes remake. Almost. Go see it.

(Incidentally the 3-D processes employed here are more than a passing gimmick and makes for a truly immersive experience. We hate those oversized Buddy Holly glasses as much as the next guy, but must admit that your local 3-D theatre is the best place to see Alice in Wonderland.)


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