Alice in Wonderland
No, I’m sure it’ll be fine if you walk into that dodgy, poorly lit area over there.

Theatrical Release Date: 03/05/2010
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Paul Whitehouse, Barbara Windsor, Christopher Lee
Rated: PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.
Runtime: 1 hour, 48 minutes

Golden Mug2010 Golden Mug

Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood)


Someone didn’t pay their HOA fees. This lawn is awful.

All you Tim Burton fanatics out there probably shouldn’t read this. First of all, you’d see any of his films regardless of the plot or cast (of course Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are in it). Second, I’m not going to give it a glowing review. And third, you’re probably already at the theater or are just coming home from there so it’s a moot point entirely.

In this incarnation of Lewis Carroll’s creation, Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton bring Alice (Mia Wasikowska) back to Underland; Wonderland is how she pronounced it as a child (and in the books). She’s now approaching 20 years of age and faces the decisions of marrying someone she does not love in order to respect the traditions and customs of the time. In an effort to stall, she chases the White Rabbit and ends up falling down the hole we all know from the books. Underworld is now ruled by the wicked Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and it’s up to Alice to fulfill prophecy and restore the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) back to power, bringing fairness and justice to the land.

Blah, blah, blah. Synopsis aside, where the film excels is the production design and acting performances. The world of Underland is vivid and surreal, filled with exotic plants, fascinating architecture and bizarre creatures (I’ll get to the issue of 2D vs. 3D in a sec). The actors all do a nice job, though to varying levels of enjoyment. The most obvious sore thumb is the lovely Anne Hathaway (I’m incapable of bad mouthing her without at least one compliment thrown in – Call me!). She manifests all the prim and proper ‘royal’ mannerisms to exaggerated effect but it appears to be what Burton wanted (since he did have an option as director to tell her to quit it) so I won’t necessarily fault her but more so the casting and direction side of things.

Depp and Carter, the two mainstays of Burton films, are wonderfully suited for their roles. Each can encapsulate bits of madness into characters quite well and do so again here. Carter’s Red Queen is deliciously egomaniacal and combined with the CGI work to increase the size of her head, the acting tends to dominate any scene she’s in. Depp obviously enjoys playing someone who tends to think and act like he’s taken the whole bottle of Ritalin and while I would dearly love to cut the scene in which he dances (the music and choreography reminded me of the terrible singing and dancing from “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory“), I again point my finger at Burton for deciding that act was a good idea.

Mia Wasikowska was a nice find for the title role of Alice. A relative unknown to American audiences (Aussies know her well enough), it allows for the audience to see the character for who she is – not the celebrity behind the make-up (sorry Mr. Depp). She plays it with a nice balance of fire and sensibility, trying desperately to wake up from what she thinks is a dream but enough of a believer in the power of imagination to embrace the reality of the situation.

However, my most esteemed bits of praise go to the voice-over actors. Whether it’s Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat or Barbara Windsor as the Dormouse – each breathe a tremendous amount of energy and life in to their characters. Perhaps the best though is Paul Whitehouse’s rendition of the March Hare, which had me laughing and grinning like an idiot every time the character was on-screen. It’s a twitchy, over-caffeinated (perhaps amongst other drugs) take on a character usually just played up as a drunk; tremendous fun to be sure.

Now for the bad news. Anyone thinking that seeing this in IMAX 3D and spending that extra $27 is a good thing will be disappointed. It’s painfully obvious that adding the third dimension was an afterthought and we are left with gimmicky objects hurled at the audience and environments that rarely have a decent depth of field. Also, by seeing it in 3D, you’ll be wearing tinted glasses … which dull the colors of the film, making all that hard work they did to make colors pop on-screen a bit less interesting.

The story also never seems to really come together. Sure, we are dutifully whisked from location to location as Alice gets a handle on what’s happening but combining all of the information never feels cohesive. The pacing doesn’t help either, as it felt a good twenty or thirty minutes longer than the 1 hour and 48 minute runtime. (And did I mention the terrible dance sequence? Seriously, I was groaning at how ridiculous this element played out.)

What audiences will come away with is that “Alice in Wonderland” is a visually impressive film, filled with odd and fun characters. The experience as a whole though feels incomplete and lacking, earning the production a 2.5 out of 5. Burton fans will get what they need but won’t be placing this in the pantheon of his films and Depp fans will probably enjoy this enough to warrant a trip to the big screen as well – but I again urge everyone to go with the 2D version and spend that extra bit on popcorn and candy; then you’ll be supporting the theater as well as the distributors and at least have a tasty treat to help wash down the lesser elements that dominate the latter parts of the film.

2.5 out of 53D No