Tim Burton should do more adaptations. Most fans probably prefer his quirkier, original movies like Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood, but I am fond of his fantasy adaptations such as Sleepy Hollow and now Alice in Wonderland. Director Burton has really expanded the Wonderland universe into an even more spectacular place than it had been before. Fans of the original might lament that this variation on the story (about a 19-year-old Alice returning to Wonderland to escape from having to answer an unwanted marriage proposal) turns what was a peculiar, allegorical, satirical story into a Narnia-esque epic. Where Lewis Carroll’s original focused on a lot of conversations between characters, this movie has much more action and adventure. Frankly, that’s what I enjoyed about it.
Burton keeps the movie from becoming a full-out CGI blockbuster by maintaining his staple of odd, off-kilter characters (which Wonderland was already well-populated with), including frequent collaborator Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (now portrayed as a winking hero rather than merely crazy), and real-life partner Helena Bonham Carter as the delightfully fun-to-watch and insanely tyrannical Red Queen. Newcomer Mia Wasikowska is the “straight man” amongst all the zany characters, playing Alice less as the original girl, constantly frustrated by the nonsense of Wonderland; now she’s a strong-willed young woman looking for an excuse to break free from her confining Victorian society. Also included in the cast are Crispin Glover (the villainous Knave of Hearts), Ann Hathaway (the virtuous White Queen), and the voices of Alan Rickman (as the Blue Caterpillar), Stephen Fry (as the Cheshire Cat), and a cameo by Christopher Lee as the voice of the Jabberwocky.
On top of the cast, what made the movie exciting for me were the excellent visuals. Perhaps my mind’s eye is not as vivid as most people’s, but I am always thrilled to see things adapted from page to screen (in IMAX 3D, no less. This was so much better than the last time I saw Depp/Burton on the giant screen in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Everything was brought to life wonderfully: the creatures such as the Bandersnatch and the Jabberwocky, the settings such as the talking garden, the two castles, the life-size chessboard, and the characters such as the Tweedle twins, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar all looked great thanks to some pretty gorgeous CG. I especially loved the character design on the Red Queen, who looked like a real life bobble-head. There’s also something special about that Burton style where it all appears beautiful yet tarnished, from the exaggeratedly twisted tree trunks to the White Queen’s stark white hair with hints of dark roots. (This is neither here nor there, but I even loved how when Alice kept changing size, her clothing didn’t grow or shrink, but there was always a magical way for her to get new clothes. How’s that for fantasy!)
I went into this movie without too many expectations, and did not expect a retelling of the original story. Purists will probably find many disappointments, but if you look on this Alice as an escapist treat for the eyes, you will definitely enjoy your sojourn in Wonderland. (4 out of 5)