Alice in Wonderland review

Posted on March 13, 2010 by

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WARNING: This review contains mild spoilers. Nothing important or explicit, but if I don’t warn you, you’ll complain.

The various productions of Alice in Wonderland over the years have been somewhat hit and miss, each new one suffering more Grimmification than the last, to the point where a dark, serious Alice is a cliché. This newest retelling of the story, from the twisted imagination of Tim Burton and written by Linda Woolverton, manages to play the dark, moody Alice straight and then subvert it all at the same time.

Alice gets away with what it does because it’s not the story told in the book (Which is, let’s be honest here, not exactly plot-heavy). Instead it takes elements from Alice in Wonderland, Through the looking glass, and the nonsense poem ‘Jabberwocky’, which some of you may remember was made into a film by Python Terry Gilliam back in the 70’s.

Now witness the awesome power of this fully operational animation department!

Alice Kingsley is 19. She’s being forced into a marriage with a chinless twit called Hamish. She has a recurring dream about a strange magical land. Attending a party organised to celebrate her engagement to Hamish, she notices odd happenings around her. When the question is popped, she panics and flees the party, chasing after a strange white rabbit in a waistcoat. It isn’t long before she falls down a rabbit-hole after it, arriving in Underland.

It’s revealed here that she’s been there before, as a child, and has been sought out and brought back by the inhabitants to free them rom the persecution of the evil Red Queen, who has taken over Underland (The younger Alice mistakingly believed it to be called Wonderland) in the years Alice has been away thanks to her control of the monstrous Jabberwock. Alice is tasked with a quest to slay the Jabberwock and free Underland, which has become dark and dystopic in the years Alice has been away.

And yet, it still isn't the weirdest character he's ever played.

But that’s enough about the plot, because there isn’t a huge amount to it after the set up that I can talk about without spoiling some serious plot points. Let’s talk about how the film looked. Alice was in fact the first 3D film I’ve seen, and I have to say that the effects didn’t disappoint. There was a clear foreground and background, and the 3D never really jumped out at you, instead just adding depth and life to the picture. Which looks fantastic. Disney’s budget has finally caught up with Burtons imagination, and it shows. Every environment looks fantastically realised. Every location has little tells and quirks and a backstory to it.

One of the most interesting things is that nearly everything in the movie is at least just a little bit CGI. The ‘Normal human’ characters in Underland are all just a little bit out of normal shape, with eyes too big, or looking a bit stretched out, or in the case of the Red Queen, having a really big head.

The plot itself isn’t the strongest, but considering the source material they did a fantastic job of servicing it into a proper, coherent story. On the other hand, it’s easy to follow and that somehow only serves to make it more mesmerising because you’re not stopping yourself to ask questions or remember what’s been going on.

Hathaway is fantastically creepy as the perky goth White Queen

The acting is superb. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter is at turns hilarious, melancholy, sweet, violently psychotic and crazy awesome, and is one of his best roles. His chemistry with Mia Wasikowska, the actress playing Alice, is so strong that many viewers, including myself assumed they being set up over the course of the film to be a couple, and I was kind of disappointed that it didn’t happen. Wasikowska herself is brilliant- many people have said she comes across as wooden through most of the film, drifting through the story like Keira Knightly on horse tranquillisers, but that’s sort of the point- she’s not meant to be fazed by all the weird stuff around her. She’s a 19th century woman who spends most of the film convinced that she’s in a dream. Her acting makes perfect sense.

The voice work too deserves special mention- With Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman both providing seductively sensual performances and the Cheshire Cat and Absalom respectively. Barbara Windsor gives the Doormouse a considerable energy and presence for such a tiny creature, and Christopher Lee turns up at the end of the film to lend his iconic voice to the Jabberwock.

The film climaxes with a battle, which is a) really generic in CGI laden fantasy films now and b) Disappointingly brief, especially when Johnny Depp get his hands on a Scottish Claymore thats almost as long as he is tall. And the films ending doesn’t really feel satisfying. A lot of people, myself included have to wonder why Alice makes the choice that she does which just doesn’t seem right.

This is what Helena Bonham Carter really looks like.

The score, by Burton regular Danny Elfman, is beautiful and ominous, if a bit repetitive. Elfman always seems loathe to use more than one central cue in his songs, but it fits the film so well that you wouldn’t notice that unless you, like I, purchased the score separately.

I would seriously recommend seeing this film. It looks amazing, it’s full of genuine laugh out loud humour, and has some excellent performances in it. An original take on an old favourite. Genius.

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Posted in: Movies