Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Mia Wasikowska as Alice in armor and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen (above) face the Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter (below), on the battlefield in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
The Alice in Wonderland books (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass) never did much for me as a kid, I must admit. The surreal thing to that degree just didn’t appeal to me. (I remember that as a little fag I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, though. Roald Dahl, too, and Madeleine L’Engle, and yes, I admit it, when I was smaller, the Beatrix Potter books…)
Tim Burton, though, has made some great films — “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns,” “Mars Attacks!”, “Corpse Bride,” “Sweeney Todd” — so I was there for his rendition of “Alice in Wonderland,” which uses materials from both of Lewis Carroll’s books about Alice in Wonderland.
Again, I haven’t read those two books, so I can’t compare the books to Burton’s film. Which is probably for the better for a film review anyway.
The Alice in Burton’s version is an older Alice who is expected to marry a man she doesn’t want to marry. Be practical, be responsible, be an adult, Alice is told.
But Alice wants to be Alice, and she soon finds herself down the rabbit hole and in Wonderland, where she visited in her childhood in her dreams. Or were they just dreams?
Dream or not, Wonderland is more interesting than is Alice’s waking world of arranged marriages and proprieties.
With all of the talking animals, an evil queen that must be taken down, and an epic battle on the battlefield between good and evil, Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” resembles the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies, but Lewis Carroll invented Wonderland long before C.S. Lewis invented Narnia. (I’m assuming that Burton didn’t make up any major plot elements, such as the climactic battle scene in which Alice must face the dreaded Jabberwocky.)
Stealing the show in Burton’s “Wonderland” is not Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, although Depp is given the top billing, but Helena Bonham Carter as the homicidal, macroencephalic Red Queen, whose favorite pastime, ironically, given her large noggin, is ordering and witnessing the decapitations of anyone who she feels crosses her majesty. You feel kind of guilty liking her character so much, since she’s pure, raw evil, but her character is probably the most fleshed-out, second only to that of Alice.
Depp is good as the Mad Hatter, but the character of the Mad Hatter never did much for me, and Depp’s Mad Hatter doesn’t seem much different from Depp’s other roles in Burton films, especially Willie Wonka but even a bit of Sweeney Todd. And, as much as I’ve always liked Depp, he is overused, even annoyingly ubiquitous, in Burton’s “Wonderland.”
The ethereal Cheshire Cat, voiced by Stephen Fry, is wonderfully done. (I like the new color scheme for the floating, vanishing and reappearing cat, too; the pink and purple Chesire Cat in Disney’s original version of “Alice” never really worked for me.) I would like to have seen more of the cat and less of the hatter.
I’ve always liked Anne Hathaway, but her White Queen is a bit two-dimensional. Is Carroll’s White Queen this two-dimensional? Does Carroll have his White Queen just posing so much of the time and apparently overcome with ennui? I hope not.
Alan Rickman voices Absolem the Caterpillar, a toking, Yoda-like character who periodically counsels Alice with his wisdom during her visit to Wonderland.
I saw the 3-D version of Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which so many reviewers (including Roger Ebert) have criticized as being too much. At times it was a bit too much sensory overload, but it didn’t ruin the overall experience. (Mostly, again, I just wanted more of the cat and less of the hatter…)
“Alice in Wonderland” delivers what it promises: An entertaining, visually impressive film. It isn’t Tim Burton’s best, but it certainly isn’t his worst.
My grade: B+