Yes…it IS “Underland”, as this movie goes on to tell us. It was Alice who, upon her first visit, mistakenly thought the strange & amazing place was called Wonderland when it is actually “Underland”, which would make sense considering it IS down a giant rabbit hole.
Aaaaanyway…finally the long awaited Tim Burton version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland” has appeared magically to save us from the winter blahs. Or has it? I was so looking forward to this magical tale and so I hurried to the local theatre for an important date with an Imax screen and my 3D glasses! And truth be told, it was curiouser & curiouser what I found.
As the plot goes, it is several years since Alice first fell down the rabbit hole and she has been having dreams of it ever since. She is now around 19 years old (I assume) and she is still having trouble sleeping. She is betrothed to the son of a rich entrepreneur and it is on the day that he has chosen to propose that she finds herself chasing after the white rabbit once again and down the old rabbit chute to Wonder…er…Underland. It is here that she runs into all of her old friends including Tweetledee & Tweetledum (both played by relatively unknown comic Matt Lucas), the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, Dormouse and a cast of other characters. It is also where she rekindles some sort of odd relationship with the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp, who chews up screentime like no other. And it was this relationship that threw this film off a little, as far as I’m concerned.
First though…the best part about the film…the imagery. “Stunning” is the word that comes to mind. Much like his version of the Chocolate Factory, Burton has, once again, made a magical place as vivid and interesting to look at than any director of this age. Although he definitely has his own personal touch on places like Underland (see “Sleepy Hollow”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory”, etc), THIS land is where Tim Burton belongs. This place is exactly what makes his imagination run wild and he has done miraculous things with it. The landscape is dark yet whimsical and it’s every bit the kind of place I imagined it could be. So on that level, “Alice” is a success.
The character’s involved are all quite good also. I really enjoyed Mia Wasikowska’s version of Alice. She’s a bit of a spud at first, living her life having odd dreams. But as the film goes on, I kind of warmed up to her “muchness” and she became more & more likable as each reel went. All of the characters are fun (especially the mad March Hare who, in my opinion, should have gotten more time to go bonkers) and the oddball brothers of Tweetledee & Tweetledum were a hoot as well.
Now…the bad part: Johnny Depp. And not because I’m kind of tired of him appearing in EVERY Tim Burton film playing basically the same kind of quirky roles. Personally, I just thought this role was given waaaaaaay too much time onscreen. It was if the writers and Burton knew they had a role for Depp and decided to give him more time than they should have because, quite frankly, it’s a one-sided role that they have tried to make 3-dimensional and failed. They took the Hatter and tried to make him into the equivalent of The Scarecrow in “The Wizard Of Oz” except…well…in THIS tale this character is the MAD Hatter. He HAS a brain…but he’s crazy! Instead, Burton & crew tried to make his story the heart of the movie and it just doesn’t work. The Mad Hatter is a supporting role all the way, much like the Blue Caterpillar and all the other goofy sideshow characters. The story is about Alice, after all, and to take away that aspect of it makes the story disjointed. And very long. At 2 hours in length, you cut out all the Mad Hatter “moments” and you have a well-paced story with a central character and a conflict that needs resolved. WITH the Hatter you have extra baggage that needs sorted and it falls flat. And that is what happens here.
Oh…and about the plot, it’s actually not a bad idea at all…the Queen of Hearts (played with big-headed glee by Helen Bonham Carter) takes over Underland with her army of soldiers and the Jabberwocky (a menacing dragon). The White Queen (played by Anne Hathaway in a useless performance) has been banished and the land of Underland is gloomy and sad. It is foretold in a prophecy that Alice will return to defeat the dragon and the world will once again be bright and happy. Good enough plot for me! And it would have worked if they had left it at that and cut Depp’s performance in half. But they didn’t…and that drops this film to about average for me. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, but it could have been so much better. And the 3D? Don’t waste your money. It’s nowhere near the caliber of “Avatar” and it’s somewhat disappointing that it wasn’t cooler considering how many ways it could have been used. If it weren’t for the fight at the end and the Cheshire Cat, it wouldn’t have made any difference at all that it was in 3D and for the added cost, you can go without.
Overall Rating: B-