Director Tim Burton maintains a body of work that seemingly sprouts directly from his own highly unique imagination, blending dreams and nightmares into substance in in a vortex of sheer creativity. Alice in Wonderland is Burton’s most recent endeavor as he creates an other worldly experience where animals and humans are almost interchangeable. In true form, Burton comes at us with a visually stimulating film following the well known story of Alice’s adventure as she retraces her forgotten steps back down the rabbit hole.

This time around, Burton chronicles the life of the young girl rediscovering this strange world when she is swept into her own vivid imagery of a far away land. As these two realities begins to merge, Alice must decide if she is capable of handling the pressure bestowed upon her to fulfill a fabled destiny. Alice in Wonderland is a film that follow a young adult into the world of her childhood, where she begins to rediscover the truth behind her decade of sleepless nights. Tim Burton’s recast of familiar characters with the usual suspects helps to create a narrative where the sincere test of power comes from the self-acceptance and ability to see beyond the guise of a superficial existence.
 

Alice in Wonderland functions as almost a lost act to the original story of a girl who’s imagination once sent her to a far away land of ruby red roses, playing card soldiers and dueling queens representing the contrast between good and evil. Each time Alice revisits the foreign yet familiar dream world, she retains more details of the characters she once knew. Eventually Alice reemerges as a seemingly scattered beauty with many of the same delusions, with the exact reasons unbeknownst to her peers. During her supposed engagement party, Alice’s unique vision leads her to follow a supposed figment of her imagination to the oddly magnificent place called Underland.

Almost immediately Alice is thrust into a realm where the impossibilities of everyday life seem to unfold naturally. Within moments of her arrival, Alice is met with several tasks that test her being and potentially clarify her persona to the talking creatures of Underland. We soon discover that not only has Alice set foot in this place before, but she was brought back to slay an ever powerful Jabberwocky which will inevitably re-crown the White Queen and restore order to the land.

Tim Burton uses his scope for imagination to establish a believability in the possibility that Underland may actually exist. Many of the familiar characters, including the Dormouse and wide mouthed Cheshire cat, come back to life as the quirky and loyal companions to Alice as she struggles to come to peace with her inevitable future. As the film begins to unfold we are met with a wise pipe smoking caterpillar who’s failure to accept the starlet as the fearless girl he met years before forces the others to question her authenticity. From this initial test of loyalty, Alice is then chased by a ferocious beast, stuffed into a tea pot by the elusive and half bonkers Hatter, right before a gigantic Alice stumbles upon the Castle of the large headed Red Queen.

With almost a dozen films to their united credit, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton team up again to embrace the colorful potential in this film. With a veritable buffet of quirky characters already on his resume, Johnny Depp manages to channel several past performances into the personality of the Mad Hatter. Sadly, while Depp has obvious depth and capability as an actor, many of his intricacies are beginning to turn predictable. Despite the brilliant costume, makeup choices and valiant effort to create a fanatical yet charismatic hero, this particular character seems to be a combination of the confused Edward Scissorhands and morose Sweeny Todd, with a hint of the cross dressing Ed Wood. that said, Johnny Depp remains one of the most committed actors of his generation and attacks each performance with a vengeance.

Another recurring ingredient to the Burton films is actress and wife Helena Bonham Carter as the stunningly horrid Red Queen. As the two most flamboyant characters (arguably played by the two most talented cast members), Mad Hatter and Red Queen provide the most intricate performances of the film. Carter adds such depth to her role as the Red Queen, walking the fine line between humor and terror as she portrays a woman who not only carries around an oversized feature (her head), but constantly admonishes those she finds unworthy by repeating “off with their head,” as an almost verbal tick. Depp and Carter understand the dark tones and farcical humor of a Burton film and challenge the campy potential in such a fantastical storyline to something approaching equilibrium.

In contrast, the two younger actresses are far less impressive in their roles, as Alice and the White Queen, respectively. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska gives a tired performance without a semblance of fervor or spark that makes a character like Alice unique. The constant look of sad confusion does little to ignite the audience and often slows down the pace of an otherwise stimulating picture. Through Wasikowska, Alice comes across as bored and almost morose until the final frame when she seems to finally understand the essence of the character. Since the actress is a physical fit for the character and maintains a bit of natural sweetness, her performance isn’t quite enough to ruin the integrity of the film. Also, usual leading lady Anne Hathaway makes a concerted effort in her portrayal of the White Queen, and yet her representation resembles an actress desperately seeking a character detail to latch on to. Her flighty nature seems self-conscious with an aim to impress such an esteemed director and cast of actors.

Although Alice in Wonderland fails to land in every aspect, Burton still manages to create a world worth discovering. His sense of cinematography and attention to detail is crucial in such a film, and the audience is offered a visual feast of detail each and every time a character is introduced. With the potential to appeal to a youthful audience exclusively, Burton decides to highlight the darker undertones by juxtaposing these themes against the vividly saturated set of Alice. Regardless, Alice in Wonderland makes a concerted effort in exposing a well known story in a new light. Through the dream lens of Underland, the audience is able to embrace the notion that the impossible may somehow really exist.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman
Director: Tim Burton
Runtime: 108 Minutes
Distributor: Disney
Rating: PG