"Alice in Wonderland" Review

Alice In Wonderland
Title: Alice In Wonderland
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Genre(s): Fantasy
Rated: PG (For fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar)

Why it took Tim Burton this long to make a movie adaptation of “Alice In Wonderland” I’ll never know. Considering Burton’s previous accomplishments of making movies with weird worlds and isolated protagonists, it seems like he would have tackled Lewis Carol’s classic book years ago. But then back then he’d have to make sets to create the world he does here, which would have been tedious and expensive. Now he can just put his characters in front of a green screen for half the cost and just as nice a look. To say this movie looks great would be an understatement as for all the complaints Burton gets on his storytelling I hear very little complaints of his visual accomplishments.

Here Burton takes everything a step further by making Alice’s world look less like Disney and more like American McGee’s gothic vision from several years ago. The current movie even follows McGee’s ideas more closely then Disney’s, as Alice (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself back in Wonderland. When I say “back” it’s because she apparently was there at one point. Whether that previous visit was a dream or reality is up to debate between many of the animals, and many feel this isn’t even the same Alice from that time. Though most express skepticism, The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) accepts her as the real Alice without any hesitation. Another person who accepts Alice for being real is the Red Queen (Helen Bonham Carter).

The Queen however wants Alice’s head to be cut off because if Alice teams up with her good sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) then it could be the end of her rule. This all leads to a spectacular battle that will remind some viewers more of Lewis Carol’s second Alice book “Through The Glass.” Indeed, fans of the previous animated Disney movie or the books might not recognize most of the story here. It’s to the movies benefit that Burton expands The Mad Hatters role in the movie. Partly because he acts as a suitable guide through most of the film and partly because he was also the best character in every Alice book and movie ever produced. That Johnny Depp makes him into a chalk face weirdo is proof that studios should put a leash on him more often.

All one needs is a big hat and loose jacket to make a convincing Mad Hatter, and all this makeup (including color changing eyes that act like a mood ring) is just overkill. The big question must be answered then is if this is a good movie. That is as tough a question to answer as “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” I think this is the best movie of “Alice In Wonderland” we’ve gotten. It’s the best looking, best acting, and for the first time the story is something the audience can actually follow. I’m not sure if that makes it a good movie though. I don’t blame Burton or Depp who have both done what they could with the material, but I don’t think the books are written to make good movies.

Books can be more random then movies are because readers can put the book down every couple of chapters. Putting all that randomness into a two hour film just tries the viewers patience though. It’s telling that with every adaptation of Alice the screen writers all have extensively rewritten the story so as to make some sense out of it on film. This version has the most coherency but at the same time loses much of what made the books fun. I’m going to give it three stars on the basis that this is far from a poorly made film and it actually looks good and makes sense, but like previous movies I’m struggling to care about it all. But maybe, like the raven riddle, I’ll just have to settle for what works over what doesn’t.

Parents, while generally not violent there are scenes of intense imagery that is typical Tim Burton. Kids who are familiar with his other movies should be fine though. Recommended for ages 10 and up.