Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a literary work that has many times been translated, reworked and/or re-imagined to fit the big screen. So many films have the name “Alice in Wonderland” that it has become dizzying keeping track of all of them. Whether it has been the 1903 silent film version, the 1951 Disney animated classic, or the 1976 X-rated musical comedy, several completely different versions exist for nearly any audience imaginable.
My preference is still the traditionally 2-D animated Disney adaptation. While not at all heavy on story, the rendition scores major points for being a landmark animation spectacle and a classic in the realm of fantasy. With CG taking over the industry of modern day films, the animation may appear a bit dated to the casual viewer, but keep in mind that it was accomplished nearly six decades ago (my dad wasn’t even born at the time) and is as close to flawless as far as hand drawn animation goes.
But just what happens when the quirky-minded madman Tim Burton gets behind such a property as “Alice in Wonderland”? It would almost seem as though it were a match made in heaven. Tim Burton has well established himself for specializing in bizarre, oddball types of films (“Beetlejuice”, “Edward Scissorhands”, and another film based on a book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) that in the end prove to be quite entertaining. The man also has an artistic technique that immediately sounds undeniably appropriate for something as imaginative as “Alice.”
This newest edition of the beloved tale begins with an early inference to the extravagant world that is to be later revealed. A young Alice wakes up from a dream about Wonderland, explaining about the components characteristic to the place (smiling cats, white rabbits, blue caterpillars, oh my!). Alice is portrayed as a girl with a vivid imagination, which causes some people to be wrongly concerned about her mental health.
It is not for another thirteen years that the now nineteen-year old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) will revisit (or visit for the first time?) Wonderland. After abandoning the site of a marriage proposal, she follows a white rabbit and falls into the rabbit hole, which begins the fantasy element of the story. After opening the door leading to the wondrous world, there is much debate whether or not this Alice is the same one who visited long ago. Many say she is, many say she isn’t. Then again, it is her dream that all of this is taking place, am I not correct?
The fact of the matter is that Wonderland is an entirely different place from what it once was. Under the rule of the heartless (no pun intended) Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), the previously whimsical mood has been utterly reduced. The Queen’s monstrous dragon called the Jabberwocky has destroyed what was a lively and thriving area into mere ashes. Alice is informed that there is a prophecy stating that she is the only one who has the power to slay the Jabberwocky and restore the power to the Red Queen’s more compassionate younger sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
One character that is particularly crestfallen toward what has become of Wonderland is the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). While still insanely eccentric and colorful, the Hatter is only about half as “mad” as he used to be. I mean, he used to be considered one of the best “Futterwacking” dancers in the entire region. But since the Red Queen’s rise to power, he has never shown off the dance again.
“Alice In Wonderland” contains some captivating environments and visuals, just as most other adaptations have had. Unfortunately, that is the only sturdy leg that the movie has to lean on. The story, while it starts off relatively interesting, eventually dwindles until it just started meandering too much for my taste. While the artistic direction is indeed inspired, it really isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before. Basically, it boils down to just three-dimensional retreads of the same vibrant characters from the 1951 Disney effort.
However, that is not to say that some of the portrayals of the characters are not incredibly entertaining in their own right. While I can see Johnny Depp getting over-praised for his role as the Mad Hatter, he does pull of a delightfully comical variant of that personality. The best performance of any, though, is Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. She plays her with such enraged enthusiasm that you cannot help but smile whenever she is onscreen. She captures all mannerisms the Queen is known for: easily provoke-able, constantly irritable, and abusing of her royal powers (“Off with his head!!!”).
Ultimately, my reaction towards the newest addition to the “Alice” adaptations is lukewarm. I hate to keep giving 2 ½ star reviews (this is my 5th this year), but this may very well be the perfect definition for that rating. While I found that the film was nothing too special or endearing, things such as the visuals and a few performances were interesting enough to sit through. Nothing to prevent you from ever watching it, but nothing to absolutely make you have to see it at a theater.
Note added 3/6/10: This version of "Alice in Wonderland" has one of the greatest rating reasons I've ever read: Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, AND FOR A [freaking] SMOKING CATERPILLAR!