In 1865, author Lewis Carroll published “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a story about a young girl who follows a white rabbit into a strange and frightening world.
And in 1871 he published “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There,” which recounts other adventures by Alice with similar characters.
It wasn’t until 1951 that Disney took both books and combined them into the classic film “Alice in Wonderland.” Now, eccentric director Tim Burton – famous for films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Edward Scissorhands” – has released his own interpretation of Carroll’s work. The film has endured success so far, outselling “Avatar” in opening weekend box office sales worldwide.
The film is a sequel and combination of Carroll’s two tales. Burton pulls and blends characters from both novels. The Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is a mix of the Queen of Hearts (“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”) and the Red Queen (“Through the Looking Glass”).
This new story takes place 10 years after Alice first fell down the rabbit hole. Now 19, she has forgotten her childhood adventure and disregarded it as a bad dream. But after a surprise engagement at an uncomfortable formal party, Alice follows the white rabbit into Wonderland once more.
Wonderland is the same, strange world it was in Carroll’s books, but Burton’s film enhances it with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Rather than control the film, like the same effects did in “Avatar,” they add to the eccentric and dreamlike world and beautifully frame the story.
Though the movie was also shown in 3-D, the out-of-place scenes usually added to pop out at the audience were thankfully absent – in part because most of the movie was filmed in 2-D and later converted.
Mia Wasikowska, a relative newcomer to film who plays Alice, ran the risk of getting lost behind Johnny Depp’s role as the Mad Hatter, but the two share a sibling-like chemistry that works and adds depth to the characters.
Burton definitely meets his aim to give these classic characters new history and dimension, evolving them into real characters instead of cliches or plot devices. Anne Hathaway’s performance as the White Queen was particularly impressive, epitomizing goodness and giving just enough sideways glances and hand twirls to hint at the madness plaguing most Wonderland inhabitants.
Opposite the White Queen, however, is her evil sister, played brilliantly by Bonham Carter. Cursed with an overly large head, the Red Queen struggles with her own self-confidence – surrounded by courtiers who go to extensive lengths to be accepted.
Depp, a Burton favorite, embraces the absurd in his role as the Mad Hatter. Everything from his toothy, lopsided grin to his long-winded rants – Depp convinces with his ability to really become his character.
“You’re entirely bonkers,” Alice tells him in a memorable line from the movie. “But I’ll tell you a secret: All the best people are.”
With all of the original madness and unanswerable riddles taken straight from the novels – like, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” – the hatter is the most colorful character in the film and quite possibly the most entertaining.
But Wasikowska is an inspiring female lead. She shows definite charm in her gravity despite her reactions to the world of Wonderland – less animated than one might expect in a world where visitors are constantly attacked and cats disappear one body part at a time.
Unlike so many weak leads in today’s movies, she takes charge, runs from romance rather than depend on it, faces adversity head on and values people for who they are.
Unfortunately, the film’s writing did have some disappointments and one too many clichs. The dialogue and plot taken from the novels was brilliantly incorporated into the story, but every time the writing strayed off the path it lacked Carroll’s orginality and charm.
The action-oriented ending was oddly romanticized and unlike anything ever written by Carroll, who ended “Through the Looking-Glass” with a chess battle and Alice again waking as though out of a dream.
Hollywood seems unable to imagine that a film can end without a final action sequence or conflict, though the ending to the first Disney film was faithful to the book.
It is the inspiration that gives this movie its charm and entertainment value, but Burton gives it new depth and successfully illustrates a world that most people have only imagined. The film made it easy to fall in love with Wonderland and its inhabitants all over again.