Sunday, April 04, 2010

Alice In Wonderland

Year: 2010
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover

I'll be honest with you. I don't know the Alice In Wonderland story. Out of all the children's tales I read as a kid, this one was a little vague to me. I remember it being an adventure of a girl named Alice in a very strange place, but not much more. And when I looked up the story online, the plot confused me further.

But I am aware of how well known this story is, and how the hype has been building since Tim Burton was announced as the director for a live action adaptation of this. And with his favourite guy Johnny Depp in the lead, it can't go wrong, can it?

First off, this film isn't about the first time Alice ventures into Wonderland, but rather the second, so it's a sequel of sorts. Now 19 years old, Alice only remembers her adventure as a dream. One day she is coerced by her friends and family to be engaged to a man she isn't fond of, so she runs off into the woods and tumbles down the rabbit hole again, back to the same place she visited 13 years ago.

Once there, she meets up with her old friends, the rabbit, the March hare, the dormouse, weird twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and of course, The Mad Hatter. But all is not well in Wonderland. The big headed Red Queen has taken control and strikes terror across the land with her maniacal rule. Whenever she disapproves of something, she orders for someone to be beheaded. Now, Alice's friends need her to lead them to war on behalf of the gentle White Queen and slay the Red Queen's monster, the Jabberwocky, and subsequently overthrow her. However, it's not so simple, as they do not immediately believe that she is the same Alice from 13 years ago.

When it comes to Tim Burton's films, the first thing that stands out is set design. Like the gothic buildings of Gotham City in Batman, or the wonderful world in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, or the suburban neighborhood in Edward Scissorhands. Here, the sky's the limit as Wonderland is filled with talking flowers, giant plants, huge castles and a giant chess board. Yes, a chess board. Add to all this some nice CGI to portray the talking animals and other creatures, and the result is a breathtaking visual palette that you would only imagine in a pop up story book. It doesn't quite rival Avatar, but it is impressive nonetheless.

Johnny Depp, as always, shines in his role as The Mad Hatter. You'll notice some shades of Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka in his performance, but he still manages to make the character his own, with some nicely timed quirks and dark turns. Mia Wasikowska does reasonably well as Alice, though being an unknown actress works against her a bit. You can see her inexperience here and there. Helena Bonham Carter makes the most of her two dimensional Red Queen by making her cruel and funny at the same time, while Anne Hathaway portrays the White Queen as kind yet weird. And she's totally white too. Crispin Glover also does well as Stayne, the Red Queen's enforcer.

Most critics weren't satisfied with Burton's adaptation, perhaps expecting more originality from the man. But I found Alice In Wonderland to be a satisfying tale about finding one's identity and believing in the impossible, even when most sane people wouldn't.

Another winner from Burton. (4/5)

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