This is definitely not your ordinary Alice in Wonderland. No, audiences will be walking in a Tim Burton wonderland this time around. The director’s vivid imagination is on full display in his unique extension and re-interpretation of the Lewis Carroll novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.
Alice (newcomer Mia Wasikowska) returns to Wonderland 12 years after her initial visit, where she reunites with friends including the Cheshire cat, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and of course, the Mad Hatter (portrayed by Burton stalwart Johnny Depp). Alice learns that Wonderland is in danger of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and that it is her destiny to defeat the queen. Alice teams up with the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to take on the Red Queen and her dragon, the Jabberwocky, to save everyone from losing their heads.
From the moment Alice falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, audiences can tell that this is definitely a Tim Burton film. The scenery, the music and the character design all become extremely vibrant and odd-looking. Indeed, Burton’s Wonderland is colourful — in both senses of the word — and every little detail, from the Mad Hatter’s bright orange hair to Cheshire Cat’s bright blue stripes, stands out. The director’s vision can also be shocking, like in scenes where a mouse with a sword stabs a bear in the eye, and the sword actually takes the eye out, or when Alice swims across a moat filled with decapitated heads to break into the Red Queen’s castle.
Mia Wasikowska’s Alice is near-flawless. She does a perfect job of transforming the animated Disney Alice that most are familiar with into a human, grown-up version. I don’t know where Burton found her, but he should give himself a pat on the back. Likewise, it seems Carter was born to play the Red Queen, and has the “Off with their heads!” screech down perfectly. But the centrepiece is undoubtedly Johnny Depp. Tim Burton uses him so often — this is their seventh collaboration — because he knows just what Depp can and can’t do. Burton obviously had a vision of what the Mad Hatter would be like, and clearly Depp saw his vision, and was able to pull it off with bright orange hair, shiny pink lips, neon green eyes and a crazy outfit.
Not everything in this Wonderland is wonderful, however. The film often seems too cartoonish. For instance, when Alice is walking around wonderland and being chased by a giant bear, it just looked like she was a human trapped in a video game. I understand that Alice comes from the very real London, England, and should look out of place, but not too out of place. Audiences need her experience at least to feel real, and to feel like they could put themselves in Wonderland. But with this movie, this is not possible.
Tim Burton’s Depp-obsession is equally jarring here. Even though the movie is titled Alice in Wonderland, I think Burton secretly wanted the film to be titled Mad Hatter in Wonderland. The director finds endless ways to pump up the Mad Hatter’s screen time, like a sub-plot about his past before he had gone mad. Individual scenes are directed in such a way that they seem more interested in following Mad Hatter’s narrative than Alice’s. For example, when Alice is fighting the Jabberwocky, the camera never hesitates to cut back to what the Mad Hatter is doing. Usually, he’s just looking worried about Alice.
It’s like Burton had it set in his mind that he was going to make Johnny Depp the huge star of this movie, no matter what. I get it. I mean, who wouldn’t love to see Depp as the main actor in all movies? He’s one of Hollywood’s best actors. But it would have been nice if the focus had been more on the person whose name is in the title of the movie.
Despite these flaws, Alice in Wonderland is very good. It’s perfect for people who want to escape for two hours to a place where anything can happen and can maybe even end up going a little bit mad.
3.5 stars out of 5