6 March 2010 | d_art
Movie Review: 'Alice in Wonderland' is a beautiful world to behold
Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is a sequel and not a retelling of the original children's novels by Lewis Carroll. In this film, Alice is now 19-years old, and soon after the death of her father, is proposed to be married away. Feeling pressured, she runs off, following a white rabbit, which leads her to Wonderland, a place she only vaguely remembers from childhood. There, she meets past familiar faces as the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), and eventually the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who has been terrorizing the land with her harsh rule and beheading of heads. Alice finds out that her destiny is to end the Red Queen's rule by slaying the queen's dragon, Jabberwocky, as written in the prophesy. Along the way she meets up with all sorts of colorful characters.
If you remember, Steven Spielberg's Hook was the live action sequel to Peter Pan. Similarly, Tim Burton's film is very much like a close cousin, except it's about Alice. The progression of the story is also kind of similar, where the main character, Alice, like Peter, must rediscover herself and finally defeat her nemesis. Likewise, both films are both elaborately staged, they are both about growing up and making choices, and there's a big showdown. Chances are if one liked Hook, one will find many things to like about Alice.
Tim Burton's version of the Wonderland's environments are gorgeous, imaginatively created, lots of colorful details, and breathes life. The castles are sleek and intricately designed. The creatures are generally live versions (CG) of the Disney's previous animated version, and they're even more odder and fun to look at. I particularly loved the portrayal of the Chesire Cat in this film, and the way he snakes through midair like water feels very natural, although it wouldn't feel so natural in real life. Only complaint I may have in terms of visuals would probably be where we see CG versions of natural creatures like dogs--they're not particularly stylized so their CG-ness can be more noticeable.
Danny Elfman's score fits the environment just right, giving added intensity when needed. This film is essentially Tim Burton's playground and even if there wasn't any story, it still would be plenty of fun to just watch the loony characters in their environment. I will add that 3-D aspect of it helped a lot.
Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter with usual gusto, as he brings much energy and quirkiness to such an oddball character. I suppose there is a mix of Willy Wonka and Jack Sparrow in there somewhere. Given that other characters are mostly or completely CG, Johnny Depp's character can feel a bit of out of place, as he still feels human. Helena Bonham Carter as the big-headed (literally) Red Queen is fun, expressive, and extremely likable for such a short-tempered character. Mia Wasikowska is particularly noteworthy as Alice, which she plays with free-spirited pluckiness, charm, and beauty.
The story, admittedly, is a simple one, although it is to the story's credit that Alice is now an adult--it helps since many happenings in Wonderland can be quite unfriendly, bizarre, and grotesque. Thankfully, no more worries about some dream causing some lifelong trauma to some poor child. I also appreciated the fact that her Wonderland, like dreams, is an extension of her frustrations with the "real" world, where she felt she had many "expectations" from outside forces. At the same time, it's not like Where the Wild Things Are, where other characters are actually projections of real-life people from the main character's life. For example, to read Mad Hatter as an extension of her father feels a bit like a stretch, although the Red Queen could possibly represent her future mother-in-law since they both dislike animals. Certainly, one can merely enjoy it at face value and the creativity of this world and be fine with it.
Overall, I enjoyed this world of Alice. In one sense, that may be the important thing, if one were to stick to the flavor of the original novel. The story within the Wonderland, I felt, wasn't as poignant as "real life" moments, which were filmed with much love and detail. Given the fact that original story consisted of series of random events and character interactions, it was nice to see the characters work together a bit. The overall result isn't something beyond what one would expect from this style of work, but it's fun, and where it succeeds, it succeeds well, thanks to the consistency of Tim Burton's imaginative visuals. *** out of **** stars.
For more of my reviews, you can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/d_art