Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Alice in Wonderland


Review by Patrick Hodges

When one goes into a theater sporting 3D glasses, one expects one’s senses to be inundated with vibrant colors, eye-popping effects and a total immersion in the ambience of the story.  What one might NOT expect is that such a story, despite its just-shy-of-overwhelming accompanying visual stimuli, might actually emerge intact.

For that is the case with Alice In Wonderland, Tim Burton’s adaptation of the classic Lewis Carroll novel, and so, full credit must be given the actors in the cast, portraying their characters to the fullest, refusing to let their on-screen personas get lost in the shuffle of CGI. 

The movie begins with a six-year-old Alice Kingsleigh, haunted by the memory of her first visit to Wonderland.  Having dismissed her visit there as nothing but a recurring nightmare, she is comforted by her father (Martin Csokas), who tells her lovingly that yes, she has indeed gone mad, “but that’s all right, all the best people are.”

Fast-forward thirteen years, with Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returning to her now-late father’s estate in order to be betrothed to an aristocratic buffoon.  But when she sees the waistcoat-clad white rabbit from her dream beckoning to her, she can’t help but follow.  Falling down the rabbit’s hole, she finds herself back in Underland (a place that she herself dubbed “Wonderland” as a child).

But the old place ain’t the same.  The evil Red Queen (a bulbous-headed Helena Bonham Carter) rules with an iron fist, holding the entire land in her thrall, with any subversions punishable by beheading or worse, destruction at the hands of the dragon-like Jabberwocky that she controls.  Alice is told that she must fulfill her destiny by slaying the Jabberwocky and returning control of Underland to the beautiful White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

Of course, if a movie is being directed by Tim Burton, odds are, you’ll find Johnny Depp somewhere in the cast, and his goofy mannerisms and eccentricities are a perfect fit for the role of the Mad Hatter, whom he manages to make endearing without being annoying despite his precarious mental state. 

Depp’s is the only name above the title, which is understandable given what a huge star he is, but it’s also a little misleading, as the Hatter is merely a supporting player in the film.  The true star is Wasikowska as the titular Alice, and she does a tremendous job in carrying the role.  Fierce, independent and broad-minded, Alice plows through a story which includes one “impossibility” after another.

So kudos to the entire cast, including Bonham Carter, Hathaway, the voice talents of Alan Rickman (the Blue Caterpillar), Stephen Fry (the Cheshire Cat), Michael Sheen (the White Rabbit), and, of course, Depp.  They managed to take a children’s story that could have been laid out as a bad acid trip not only understandable, but endearing.  And it’s no mean feat that when I left the theater, it was the characters that I remembered more vividly than the effects, something the juggernaut Avatar couldn’t quite manage to do.

4 ½ / 5 stars

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