Friday, April 16, 2010

Alice in Wonderland Review

I've been a fan of Tim Burton for the longest time now, and his latest offering, Alice in Wonderland, is filled with his unique style and fairy tale wonder.

Growing up I knew the basics of the general plot of the tale, that Alice falls down a rabbit hole and enters a fantastical world she called Wonderland, but I've never read the book or knew much more than that. So I was pleasantly surprised that Burton's film isn't really a retelling of the tale, nor is it a proper sequel but rather his version of a sequel.

The film opens with Alice as a little girl (Mairi Ella Challen) having bad dreams about this magical world, and her father consoles her, telling her the most gifted people in all the world are mad. Flash forward several years later and her father has passed on, and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother are on their way to an aristocratic party.

Alice and her mother are already arguing about her style of formal dress, showing that Alice does have a rebellious streak and keeping in theme with Burton's reoccurring motif of important characters going against the social norm. Through a series of events that lead Alice to try and get away from the party, Alice follows a peculiar rabbit (Michael Sheen) and falls down a rabbit hole.

The events of Alice in Wonderland have already happened when she was a little girl, however Alice believed them to be nothing more than a dream. Now she finds herself back in this mysterious world, and though she refuses to believe it's not all in her head, she can't help but become attached to the people she meets.

As with most of Burton's work, his version of Wonderland is darker and gothic. The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is in power, and she's gripped the land in fear. Her favourite saying of "Off with his head!" is the standard punishment for all who cross her, and while her card soldiers maintain her semblance of order, it's her creature, the monstrous Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee), that everyone fears. The oppressed people of Wonderland look for a champion who can slay the beast and set the deposed White Queen (Anne Hathaway) back upon the throne, and they believe this champion to be the reluctant Alice.

I would say the most regrettable aspect of Alice in Wonderland, which is a complete visual splendor with unique and wonderful characters and a world full of the flare and style we've come to expect from Burton, is that it does shift from being very fantastic and spontaneous to becoming rather predictable, as the film begins to follow a more standard narrative to a generic climax with an ending I felt to be unsatisfying.

Still, this did not take away from the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed Alice in Wonderland and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun, enjoyable film. Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter is, as always, spectacular, bringing the character to life with whit and charm, and instilling him with a great deal of depth. Depp is truly an actor capable of flawlessly performing such a wide range of rolls that he's always a treat to behold.

On one hand, thanks to his usual involvement with Burton, Alice in Wonderland reminds me a great deal of Burton's earlier film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). Both are extremely fun and enjoyable films, and Depp provides an outstanding performance in each, but each film isn't a blockbuster that's a must-own.

That said, however, Alice in Wonderland provides a great means for audiences to escape the everyday for a time, and to delight in a well crafted world. With both character, charm, and Burton's classic fairytale morality, Alice in Wonderland is a film that you should certainly see.

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