This Disney version of Alice in Wonderland is a far cry from the 1951 cartoon classic. It leans more towards the original Lewis Carroll's masterpiece, with a dark underlying tone.
Obviously, the only director with the credentials of taking on a world of nonsense would be Tim Burton, who creates a whimsical land chock full of characters that get "curiouser and curiouser."
The storyline follows Alice, who is older in this version, 19 to be exact. Played by Australian newcomer, Mia Wasikowska, she is stubborn yet strong, and the audience is instantly charmed by her rebellious nature and imagination. "Needing a moment" to sort her thoughts after she's been proposed to in front of the highest members of aristocracy, she comes across a cloaked white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), pocket watch in hand. As she pursues him, she falls down the rabbit hole. Thanks to the 3-D effects, the viewer feels as if they're falling with her, dodging objects along the way.
She enters the world of Wonderland (which is also referred to as Underland), and hence begins the CGI awesomeness.
Throughout her journey, she meets characters most of us instantly recognize: the hookah-smoking blue caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), fun-loving (and not creepy at all in this version) Tweedledee and Tweedledum played by Matt Lucas, the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), and the insane March Hare (Paul Whitehouse). This having been her second adventure in Wonderland, the characters question if she is "The" Alice...the one who has visited them before and who is destined to save them from the bulbous-headed Red Queen (brilliantly played by Helena Bonham Carter). As with the original story, this is a direct parallel to self-realization, and Alice becomes more in tune with who she is throughout the movie and ultimately conquering her fears.
Johnny Depp steals the show with his adaptation of the Mad Hatter, entering in and out of various accents, according to his mood, and spitting off ridiculous sounding words as if it was his everyday vocabulary. His whirlwind of a performance is taken away a bit by the CGI, making it look a bit too fake. I think he would have been much better on his own. Give me pure Johnny Depp over technology any day.
I would have also liked to have seen some of the infamous scenes last a little longer: the tea party, the croquet game...but that may just be my love for the Disney classic coming out. Even though it lasted nearly two hours, it felt a bit rushed through.
Is it suitable for kids? Well, that depends on your kids. With a bit more fantasy violence than your average Harry Potter, but not as much so as Lord of the Rings, the scenes that are scary end up being a bit more "in your face" thanks to the 3D effects. For me personally, I wouldn't be comfortable with letting my, say, five-year-old watch it, but would find it okay for my 8-year-old.
Overall, I'd rate it 4 out of 5 stars.
Alice in Wonderland hits theaters Friday, March 5th. Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.
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