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alice in wonderland
Alice in Wonderland
Reviewer: Kyle Retter
Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen

Return to Wonderland

The usual suspects come together for another trip down the rabbit hole, this time, through Tim Burton’s gothic eye. The Lewis Carol books ( Alice’s Adventure through Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass ) have been adapted for the screen as many times as Beatles songs have been covered by undeserving bands.

Okay, maybe not that many, but enough.

The familiar story combines the two books’ characters and follows a young girl, Alice, as she falls down a rabbit hole and encounters a curious cast of eccentric friends and foes alike before waking up from her strange dream and returning home in time for a spot of tea.

To those familiar with his work, it would appear that Tim Burton was put on this earth for no other reason than to direct a re-make of Walt Disney’s 1951 animated classic, Alice in Wonderland …but he didn’t.

Burton’s goal was to give the story "some framework of emotional grounding" and "to try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events." So instead of a re-make or worse yet, a re-imagination, Burton gives us a Return to Oz* kind of journey back to Wonderland.

Our once young Alice is now 19 and on the verge of a courtship with Hamish Ascot, a pompous young man with digestion problems. Alice, a wild child for the Victorian era, avoids Mr. Ascots' marriage proposal by once again following the White Rabbit down his rabbit hole, without any recollection of her first escapade down south.

Wonderland, isn’t Wonderland any longer, in fact, it never was. Underland, as it has apparently always been referred to is ruled by the terrible Red Queen. Unbeknownst to Alice, it has been written that she will slay the Jabberwocky- defeating the Red Queen and returning the Crown to the White Queen, thus restoring order in Wonder-eh-hem, Underland, although there is question to whether or not the White Rabbit even lured the correct Alice down the hole in the first place.

Burton creates a clear goal for Alice, and thus, a story, as opposed to a series of events. However, does he succeed in his attempt to give this story “some framework of emotional grounding?

Yes and no.

I know that’s not really a fair answer, but life ain’t fair, kids.

Halfway through the movie Alice has a Network (1976) moment, claims her individuality, and clues us into the real theme of the story. We’ve all seen it before, but I sure wasn’t expecting something groundbreaking. A kid friendly movie has to reach a wide audience, especially a movie with a $200 million dollar budget, and it will.

Consequently, my emotional connection to Alice teetered between a-little and not so much, but I ask you, who’s face is it we see filling the movie poster frame? I’ll give you a hint; it doesn’t belong to anyone resembling Goldilocks. Johnny Depp is the real star of this movie. Depp and Burton team up for the sixth time shaping a character sure to grab the spotlight and garner much of our emotional response. Depp, as always, is impressive, and to be honest, his perfection is almost boring. But Depp isn’t the only big name on this cast list.

There has been talk of how Burton’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter, steals the show from Depp as The Red Queen; indeed her character is rich and fun. Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen and Stephen Fry round out this all-star cast. In reality, it's not the cast or even the characters that really carry this movie along, but the spectacle Burton creates.

Same name, different story...

While the original film is in many ways ominous, thought provoking, and, well, something of a trip, Burton’s vision hardly deserves the same comparison. Released in 3-D and IMAX 3-D (the only way to see a 3-D movie), comparing the 2010 release to the 1951 release is like comparing your home cooking to your mothers; you may call the dish by the same name but they're really worlds apart.

However, the brush that Burton paints with, the colors on the palate he chooses, the characters he helps to embellish, and the score Danny Elfman orchestrated produces a fantasy spectacle worthy of anyone’s two hours.

My Vote: Sliding into the # 6 spot on the All Time Opening Weekends list, it would appear that my vote really wouldn’t count.


* Return to Oz from 1985 tells the tale of Dorothy returning Oz 6 months after her initial departure. There’s no Emerald city and there are people with wheels where their hands should be. It’s not pretty, but it’s pretty scary.