- Released Internationally on 05/03/10
- Released in Malta by KRS on 05/03/10
- Showing in ‘RealD’ 3D at Empire Cinemas, Buġibba and in 2D everywhere else
Preview (Published 01/03/10 in Vida Magazine)
In a nutshell
The eccentric, visionary and often brilliant director Tim Burton teams up with his frequent collaborator Johnny Depp to give us their version of Wonderland (and it’s in 3D too).
Why we’re hyped
Tim Burton’s films share a few wonderful characteristics – they’re usually great fairytales filled with memorable characters, and bursting with flair and colour. Whether it’s his retelling of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the excellent tall tales of Big Fish, or his dark gothic imagining of the story of Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, you can usually tell you’re in the hands of an enthusiastic storyteller. Lewis Carroll’s classic seems like a perfect fit, since the pages of the book overflow with strange scenes, oddball creatures and a general feeling of disorientation. Many of our mental images of the characters come from the Disney version, so it will be interesting to see Burton’s darker and dreamier version.
Who’s in it?
Johnny Depp, ever the chameleon, gets to act even crazier than Jack Sparrow this time around, since he’s hosting a tea party as the Mad Hatter. Burton’s partner and other frequent casting choice Helena Bonham Carter (Big Fish, Fight Club) will be screaming orders as the Red Queen, and rising star Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, The Devil Wears Prada) will try to balance matters out as the White Queen. Veteran comic Stephen Fry (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Wilde) will lend his soothing voice to the Cheshire Cat, whilst Alan Rickman (Harry Potter’s Snape) will lend his to the caterpillar. Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) will be keeping track of the time, as the White Rabbit, and a partially recognizable Matt Lucas (of Little Britain fame) will be doubling as both Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Crispin Glover (Back to the Future, Willard) will be the Red Queen’s henchman, whilst the size-shifting role of Alice goes to the young Mia Wasikowska (Defiance, Amelia).
Alice in England
The film starts off with a real-world prologue, which is one of the many alterations to the classic tale introduced by scriptwriter Linda Woolverton. Rather than feeling like necessary filler material before Alice goes tumbling down the hole, these scenes of Alice’s real life are funny and entertaining, and cleverly add depth and motivation to Alice’s character. As expected, she then catches sight of the punctuality-obsessed white rabbit, and down she goes. From then on things may seem familiar, but there’s one important difference to the proceedings, which I won’t spoil for you in case, like me, you only realise once Alice herself does.
Quite a character
The film benefits from being a re-imagining of a tale that has entered into public consciousness and many viewers may feel right at home once the famous inhabitants of Wonderland start appearing on the scene. Carefully altering the previous Disney versions without straying too far from the original descriptions and illustrations, the characters are beautifully brought to life by a mix of CGI, borrowed facial features and the superb voice cast listed above. Soon after her arrival, Alice meets the wise caterpillar, who is allowed to smoke in public places, as well as the Cheshire Cat and his transparent methods. The list goes on. There’s even the Jabberwocky, a bad-tempered dragon-like creature from Lewis Carroll’s poem by the same name, who brings a touch of drama and danger to the film’s finale, also thanks to the gravelly voice of Christopher Lee.
Plotting her course
Another noticeable departure from previous versions is the obvious attempt to organise her dreamy encounters into more of a linear story, as opposed to the often random dreaming that Carroll presented. This gives more of an active role to Alice herself, as well as to Depp’s Mad Hatter. Her eventual adventure and contribution to Wonderland may seems similar to what we saw in Narnia recently, although to be fair these queens were barking their orders long before the White Witch ever graced a page.
Not so wonderful
Despite nailing the appearance, environment and encounter of each of Alice’s Wonderland encounters, the end result isn’t as great as the ingredients made me hope for. It’s all fun and it looks great, but when things come to the boil and Wonderland is at stake, do we care? I felt very little sympathy or attachment towards most of the characters, with the exception of the poor Hatter, whom Depp manages to instil with humanity beneath his insane glazed eyes. Only Alice herself and the Hatter get enough screen time to warrant a response, and ironically for a film so obsessed with queens and knaves and cards and spades, I felt it lacked heart. The 3D didn’t impress much either, although Avatar is admittedly a tough act to follow. Apparently shot in 2D and converted in post-production, I don’t imagine this film would lose much if you opt to ditch the fancy glasses.
In the end
As an attempt at creating a fantasy adventure, the film falls slightly short. But as a whimsical dream full of colourful characters, this film is an ambitious and dazzling live-action portrayal of Lewis Carroll’s vivid imagination. They don’t write fairytales like this anymore, and this version will probably make you want to dig out your old copy and give it another read.