While the amazing look of the film steals the show, many of its actors deserve high praise. Mia Wasikowska delivers a warm, low-key performance as Alice, and Johnny Depp’s wacky Mad Hatter captivates us, especially in a delightful scene where he hides Alice in a teapot. Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway also stand out as the rival sisters, the bulbous-headed Red Queen and the oh-so-gracious White Queen, respectively, as does Crispin Glover in the role of the Knave of Hearts, the evil Red Queen’s obsequious lackey.
I would be remiss not to compliment the impressive voice talent used for the various creatures/animals/flowers that populate Underland. For example, Alan Rickman, one of the best voices in filmdom, is haunting as the Blue Caterpillar; Stephen Frye brings the Cheshire Cat to whimsical life; Timothy Spall’s Bayard sounds like a hound would sound if a loyal dog could talk; Imelda Staunton’s colorful flower voice is perfect – and so forth.
Production values are also first-rate. Bizarre costumes and make-up add to the film’s visual appeal while the cinematography, set decoration, special effects and background music draw us into a weird imaginary world – one that’s sometimes very scary indeed. The Jabberwocky comes across as particularly frightening, so I think this movie might be too intense for young children. But, hey, I remember loving to be terrified while watching movies as a child (oh how those flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz made me scream!) , so perhaps I’m off base here.
Linda Woolverton’s (The Lion King) fine screenplay focuses on a coming-of-age theme. Will Alice have the courage to become the White Queen’s champion? And, if so, will this help her make the right decisions about her life in the real world? I like the idea of how our dreams can result in changes for the better if we take them seriously. Perhaps that’s not nonsensical enough for Carroll, but it works for Burton and Woolverton -- and me.
However, before writing this review, I looked at Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for Carroll’s two books and was surprised at the way Burton’s movie so aptly captured the look of some of Carroll’s original characters such as the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat and the Jabberwocky. After re-reading a few chapters to refresh my memory, I now believe that Burton’s darker interpretation of Carroll’s work may be closer to the original than most Alice in Wonderland projects. But even more important, it’s a splendid fantasy flick.
NOTE: I saw the movie in 2-D. The 3-D and IMAX versions are probably even more amazing.
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG” for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations and a smoking caterpillar.)
Review also posted at ReelTalk Movie Reviews.