Not many directing styles are as easily recognizable within the first few seconds of a film as Tim Burton’s, characterized by his choice of music and lighting, his dark vibrant mood, and his leading man.
Disney’s “Alice In Wonderland,” directed by Burton and starring Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen is not what most diehard Disney fans might expect, but I doubt they will be disappointed.
Most people may not know or remember the original story written by Lewis Carroll, or the original Disney cartoon, which is fine. This film can stand on its own.
The story is about a young English girl, who, since she was a child, has been having dreams that involve a harried rabbit, a blue caterpillar, a door mouse and most notably a Hatter, who happens to be quite mad.
The girl is Alice. We see her as a young child and then again 13 years later, on her way to a social event. The event, as it turns out, is for her. She doesn’t know it but she is about to be proposed to, with the party serving as her engagement party.
Various members of her family, and extended family, take her away, to poke, prod, advise and irritate her, all the while a rabbit in a waistcoat running through the garden continually distracts her. She seems to be the only one who can see him, and decides, just as she has been proposed to, to ponder her offer of marriage and run after the rabbit.
This is where Tim Burton’s vision really takes hold. She runs through the stark and ominous woods chasing the rabbit, and ends up falling down a rabbit hole.
Her fall ends in a very strange land, it is to become Wonderland, as we know it, but to her, it is the dream she has been having since she was a child and feels that with a quick pinch she’ll wake up. This trick had always worked when she was younger, but not this time. She is constantly reminded that all of this is quite real.
She is reacquainted with the rabbit, door mouse, blue caterpillar and Hatter, and is told what her destiny will be, and how she will overthrow the evil Red Queen, and slay the Jabberwocky. All of which she thinks is complete nonsense, but continues on in the hopes of getting home.
Most have said that the story of “Alice In Wonderland” is no more than a drug trip, induced by a potion and a piece of cake that Alice is told to drink and eat causing her to grow and shrink. The visuals in this film, especially in 3D, make statements like that very easy to understand, but the other story is that of a girl’s coming of age. Through Alice’s journey, we see her leave the girl behind and see the woman emerge in her place.
Burton’s Alice is a fascinating film to watch, with many wonderful creatures, and actors, that keep the action moving along at a well-clipped pace.
Though most will go to see this film because of Depp, and he is quite good, he is not the focal point of the film. In fact, Alice comes off as an ensemble piece with many good performances. Bonham Carter is brilliant as the Red Queen, nasty, delicious, and very funny. Mia Wasikowska, as Alice, is waifish, yet radiant and definitely holds her own opposite Depp and Bonham Carter. And it’s great to see Crispin Glover, the Knave of Hearts, back on the big screen.
The rest of the cast is primarily voiced, but outstanding as well. Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Michael Sheen, Paul Whitehouse and Timothy Spall all lend their vocal talents and breathe life into Carroll’s most famous characters.
The only disappointment here is the character of the White Queen, horribly played by Anne Hathaway. Burton’s casting choice here is so off the mark that one would think he’d made the decision after drinking potions and eating his own laced cakes; because a drug trip can be the only logical reason for using her.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND 9 out of 10 stars.