Mad about Alice
Hooray! Tim Burton’s cinematic take on Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass children’s books snapped me out of my 2010 movie doldrums. At about mid-point in the movie, I simply had to whisper to my husband, “This is so good,” and he nodded enthusiastically. Fortunately, that feeling lasted through the entire film for both of us. We’ve seen almost all the other Alice in Wonderland films and TV adaptations, but Burton’s offering gave us a darker – yet still nonsensical -- version, one showing what might happen when an older Alice goes back to Wonderland, which has turned into a sinister “Underland” ruled by an outlandishly ruthless tyrant.
While the amazing look of the film steals the show, many of its actors deserve high praise. Mia Wasikowska delivers a warm, low-key performance as Alice, and Johnny Depp’s wacky Mad Hatter captivates us, especially in a delightful scene where he hides Alice in a teapot. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway also stand out as the rival sisters, the bulbous-headed Red Queen and the oh-so-gracious White Queen, respectively, as does Crispin Glover in the role of the Knave of Hearts, the evil Red Queen’s obsequious lackey.
I would be remiss not to compliment the impressive voice talent used for the various creatures/animals/flowers that populate Underland. For example, Alan Rickman, one of the best voices in filmdom, is haunting as the Blue Caterpillar; Stephen Fry brings the Cheshire Cat to whimsical life; Timothy Spall’s Bayard sounds just like a hound would sound if a loyal dog could talk; Imelda Staunton’s colorful flower voice is perfect – and so forth.
Production values are also first-rate. Bizarre costumes and make-up add to the film’s visual appeal while the cinematography, set decoration, special effects and background music draw us into a weird imaginary world -- one that’s sometimes very scary indeed. The Jabberwock comes across as particularly frightening, so I think this movie might be too intense for young children. But, hey, I remember loving to be terrified while watching movies as a child (oh how those flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz made me scream!) , so perhaps I’m off base here.
Linda Woolverton’s (The Lion King) fine screenplay focuses on a coming-of-age theme. Will Alice have the courage to become the White Queen’s champion? And, if so, will this help her make the right decisions about her life in the real world? I like the idea of how our dreams can result in changes for the better if we take them seriously. Perhaps that’s not nonsensical enough for Carroll, but it works for Burton and Woolverton -- and me.
However, before writing this review, I looked at Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for Carroll’s two books and was surprised at the way Burton’s movie so aptly captured the look of some of Carroll's original characters such as the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat and the Jabberwock. After re-reading a few chapters to refresh my memory, I now believe that Burton’s darker interpretation of Carroll’s work may be closer to the original than most Alice in Wonderland projects. But even more important, it’s a splendid fantasy flick.
NOTE: I saw the movie in 2-D. The 3-D and IMAX versions are probably even more amazing.
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG” for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations and a smoking caterpillar.)
For more information about this film, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.