Taking another tumble down the rabbit hole
Dir: Tim Burton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen
Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice and her misshapen journey down the rabbit hole and beyond is a narrative engraved into the culture of both cinema and literature. Even those who haven’t experienced the story for themselves will instantly recognise the many names and creatures that pop up in the fairy tale, whether it’s the Cheshire Cat or the Queen of Hearts. Alice’s adventure in Wonderland has been through countless incarnations from the Disney classic to the dark video game American McGee’s Alice and now it has received a fresh, 3D interpretation from director Tim Burton.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, Alice in Wonderland 3D is a reinterpretation of the classic with a few interesting new twists. The production began with Tim Burton signing on in 2007 as part of a deal for him to direct two films in Disney Digital 3D (the other being a remake of Frankenweenie). Burton has made it his goal to keep the classic nature of Alice while infusing it with a stronger narrative cohesion and more of an emotional connection between audiences and the story. While this Alice does take place after the events of the classic, Burton has stated that he doesn’t see it as a sequel to the original.
No matter how much knowledge you have of Wonderland, you’ll have no problem tumbling down the rabbit hole with Alice in Burton’s version of the story. Alice in Wonderland 3D has a very different take on events but generally keeps the same atmosphere as you’d expect from the world. The key difference in this rendition of the tale is that Alice is now nineteen and after fleeing from the proposal of an unwanted suitor she finds herself making an accidental return to Wonderland.
Alice soon finds herself meeting the White Rabbit, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a Dodo, an assortment of talking plants and Absolem- a caterpillar voiced by Alan Rickman. Debate ensues over whether Alice is the “the right Alice” who is destined to slay the Jabberwocky and free the world from the Red Queen’s tyranny. The discussion is soon broken up by an attack by the Queen’s playing card soldiers which catapults a reluctant Alice on a desperate race to find the Vorpal Sword- the key to bringing down the Jabberwocky.
The cast of characters benefits from a rich source text full of fantastic creatures and Burton has been sure to give them a worthy portrayal. Helena Bonham Carter does a great job of bringing the bratty and cruel Red Queen to the third dimension and Johnny Depp is his usual kooky self as the Mad Hatter. Some other excellent performances can be found in supporting roles, from Alan Rickman’s wise caterpillar to Stephen Fry’s mix of creepy and charming as the Cheshire Cat. Crispin Glover’s truly unnerving performance as the Knave of Hearts is a surprise treat in the film; augmented by some interesting special effects, the Knave is one of the most visually interesting characters on screen.
With such a striking cast behind the supporting characters it’s easy to overlook the star of the piece, and that would be a big mistake. Mia Wasikowska makes for a suitably confused but ultimately strong willed Alice who makes many transformations, beyond just her size, throughout the wayward adventure.
Visually the film is a huge, colourful and a real treat for the eyes. The 3D effects are superb and serve to enhance the experience rather than dominate it. Wonderland, coupled with Tim Burton’s seemingly endless imagination, serves as a perfect setting for the advantages of 3D technology. There are some moments when this potential is squandered though; Burton’s tendency to darken and twist aesthetic styles seems to occasionally clash with the brightly coloured world. Some of the final scenes in particular feel a little drab compared to the rest of Wonderland.
The music of Alice in Wonderland is of the high quality we’ve all come to expect from Burton’s old ally Danny Elfman. The score flits from moments of strangeness such as the eerie theme of the Cheshire Cat to epic orchestral pieces for the more dramatic events such as the introduction of Wonderland.
The story itself makes for a fun twist on the classic narrative, with Burton throwing his own unique style into the mix. The pace is a little slow to begin with but from the moment that Alice takes her tumble the story picks up speed and doesn’t slow down. Things are kept fresh as Alice meets more residents of the wacky world and strives to reclaim the Vorpal Sword. Alice’s transformation from an unsure girl to a confident young woman is also expertly handled. The one downside to the narrative is that it loses some of its originality in the third act where the story transforms into a more conventional modern epic with the typical clash of good and evil (although this can almost be forgiven thanks to the brief voice cameo by Christopher Lee).
Alice in Wonderland 3D is a fun adventure into a classic and bizarre fantasy world, made even more enticing by the unique interpretation offered by Burton. It’s a shame that the plot becomes somewhat generic towards the end, moving away from the enjoyable strangeness that can be found in Wonderland, but that doesn’t mar this charming new take on a timeless story.
- Great visuals
- A world that lends itself to 3D technology
- Some great acting performances
- Danny Elfman and a superb score
- The plot becomes generic towards the end
- The world is very occasionally a little too worn down and drab