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Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Alice Kingsleigh thought she left her childhood fantasies behind, particularly her father’s stories of Wonderland. She is about to discover that the tales of her childhood are about to crash into the reality of her adulthood, and a place she was starting to think existed only in her imagination needs her help to overthrow a tyrant…

Alice in Wonderland is a computer animated/live action film directed by Tim Burton, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and serving as a spiritual sequel to both. It stars Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, and Stephen Fry.

Nineteen-year-old Alice has long been troubled by recurring dreams of a whimsical place called Wonderland. Today, still mourning the recent death of her beloved father, Alice attends a garden party at Lord Ascott’s estate, only to find that she is expected to marry his oldest son Hamish, and thus be subject to the stifling expectations of polite society. As she hesitates, she spies a white rabbit in a waistcoat, and chases after him; he leads her along a route that sends her tumbling down a rabbit hole, dumping her in Wonderland. She is met by a number of familiar Wonderland denizens, and learns that “Alice” has been foretold as the one who will slay the huge, dragonlike Jabberwock and end the Red Queen’s iron-fisted reign over Wonderland, but they debate over whether this Alice is the Alice. As the prophesied “Frabjous Day” swiftly approaches, she discovers new terrors and re-discovers old friends. Soon, Alice must find in herself the “muchness” that her Wonderland allies believe will be needed in order to restore peace to Wonderland.

When I heard the Tim Burton was making an Alice in Wonderland film, I had two conflicting reactions. First, Tim Burton was likely to be able to capture the dark whimsy of Wonderland and add his own special touch to an old, well-treaded story. On the other hand, Alice has been adapted into live action and animated films so many times that it was hard to imagine where he might take the story to keep it fresh, as his re-imagining of Planet of the Apes had crashed so hard that it left a crater in his career. Fortunately, Burton pulled through here, offering a fresh story centered in Wonderland, with familiar characters given a new spin that was only a few degrees less dark than American McGee’s Alice. The casting was excellent, with Johnny Depp giving his portrayal of the Hatter a real spark of madness and maybe a touch of dissociative personality disorder and a tragic backstory that offered a cause for his fractured mind. The Cheshire Cat, voiced expertly by Stephen Fry, was snarky and mad in a way that captured cats in general in addition to this particular one. Alan Rickman was spot-on as the Caterpillar (invoking his animated Disney counterpart from 1951), and Helena Bonham Carter explicitly stated that she based her portrayal of the Red Queen (a clear amalgamation of the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts from the original source material) on her toddler daughter – she knows what she wants and throws a fit if she doesn’t get it right now.

Of course, what really makes this movie is the CGI. Nearly every Wonderland character save the White Queen has been altered in some way: The Red Queen’s head is three times normal size, in a nod to the novel’s illustrations, the Tweedles are CGI characters with Mat Lucas’ face stitched onto both. the fully CGI characters are also well-crafted and well animated, and the green-screen work to allow the live actors to interact with computer-generated scenery and characters was ingeniously done. Perhaps the most subtle effect would be the Knave of Hearts, whose proportions are stretched just enough that the audience instinctively senses something wrong, poking them right in the uncanny valley. In the end, every character, while “real”, looks whimsical and “off” enough to keep the audience’s mind off-balance, in keeping with the inherent madness of the place.

If you enjoy Alice in Wonderland and you liked most of Tim Burton’s fantasy works, you will probably enjoy this one. It gives you a new take on an old story, and presents it in a way that handily captures the inherent whimsy of its source material.

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