For everyone not as familiar with the Wonderland canon (in which case, shame on you all), the movie carries itself as a sequel to the Disney Alice in Wonderland released in 1951, with liberal references to Through the Looking Glass and Lewis Carroll himself. Alice (played by Australian newcomer Mia Wasikowska) is older, as precocious as ever, and growing uncomfortably into her Victorian setting in a way that seems to have been lifted straight out of Anne of Greene Gables. Meanwhile, she's also trying to reconcile her recurring dream of various impossibilities that took place in the "first" movie. After a short introduction and a harrowing escape from a marriage proposal, Alice is launched headfirst into the Wonderland of her dreams, albeit one ruled by the charmingly psychotic Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), whose head barely matches her ego in size and only precariously supports the crown she stole from her sister, the
The movie version actually looks really close to this. Well played, Burton.The other supporting cast members are the standard Tim Burton fantasy conclave. Johnny Depp reprises his role as PTSD Victim With a Sweet Hat in the form of the Mad Hatter, Alan Rickman plays the Insufferable Bite-Size Know-It-All as embodied by Absolem the hookah-smoking caterpillar, and the Mentally Unstable Baby-Eater is played by the aforementioned Bonham Carter. Christopher Lee gets a few short but awesome lines as the Jabberwocky, but the real gem (in my opinion) was the talented actor and comedian Stephen Fry, whose representation of the Cheshire Cat is true to furry, nonchalant form.
The main theme propelling the story is a message of "You go, girl!" that makes some kind of sense, I guess, with a female lead protagonist and all that (and reinforced subtly by the fact that neither Queen has a King, the Red Queen having replaced hers with Crispin Glover's sycophantic Red Knave). On the other hand, it feels presented in a ham-handed manner, especially when Alice equates the obligation of killing the Jabberwocky (and saving hundreds of innocents) with the social obligation of getting married to someone she despises and has complete authority to refuse. Yes, she eventually puts on the sword, dons the mantle, and fights the dragon, but you'd think she'd have had some perspective that served to do more than delay the inevitable for all of thirty seconds. The whole female empowerment doesn't really come into play at any other point than five minutes at the beginning and the end, so I got the feeling that it was a social commentary that got stuck in there kind of as an afterthought, even if the Victorian setting is a perfect placement for it. Keep an eye peeled for the recurring sub-theme of illusions upheld for the sake of social inclusion; it's like watching Mean Girls on acid.
A minor complaint: Wasikowska's fairly new to feature-length film and especially to starring roles, but several of her lines felt too recited to be believable. "Curiouser and curiouser!" is supposed to be a reflexive exclamation of childlike wonder, not something mumbled just to make another reference to the source material. That's just sloppy. She gets more convincing towards the end, though - I guess that's part of her recovering her "muchness" that apparently defined her Disney alter ego.
In the end, Alice in Wonderland is a reasonably paced, if predictable, return to Wonderland and an ultimately satisfying sequel and nod to the Carroll works. The directing is standard for Burton (not necessarily a bad thing even if Nightmare Before Christmas no longer has shock appeal for today's kids), and very visually appealing. Go see it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 disembodied smiles