Tim Burton has done it again – a visual marvel of a film, a pretty close adaptation of a timeless classic book, great performances (although a little too heavy on screen time for Depp and Bonham Carter), and a lovely, rebellious Alice. What more do you need to know in order to run into theaters? It’s in 3D, which actually works.
The 3D that every new movie seems to employ, seems to be all the rage, but hear me out. When done well, when it adds to the story, and enhances the character, it’s a cool new effect. When it’s just a few moments throughout a feature when things ‘seem to’ jump off the screen into your faces – the it gets tired very quickly. Luckily, Alice added 3D effects to propel the story, and not just provide eye candy. Originally it was supposed to be released as a regular film, and I have no doubt it would have been just as good. The universe of Wonderland, and its inhabitants is so rich, you can make many beautiful trips there, and enjoy them every time. 3D was just an icing.
The story is a little different from what you remember from the old Disney cartoon. It’s a little less … cruel, especially the depiction of Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Sure, this in film the yells out ‘off with his head’ every few minutes, but the tone is capricious, not malicious. Her character is closer to the spirit of the book. Same goes for Anne Hathaway’s White Queen. Not just a zen peacemaker, but actually a queen with a different philosophy. The biggest change is Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter – he definitely takes up way to much screen (compared to the book, and earlier adapration). But what are you going to do – Burton has made millions just putting a camera on Depp and letting him do his schtick. And Disney (which produced the film) has made even more money from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films. They might as well milk it.
Besides, Depp is such a talented actor, he makes any role work. The ones that call for extra flair and insanity (Mad Hatter, Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Ichabod Crane), are especially easy for him. So I don’t mind that after Alice, his character is second most important to the story. I would have expected different proportions – more screen time for both Red and White queens, more back-story for the Black Knight Stayne, Dormouse, Dodo Bird and March Hare, but that’s just me – the book always gives you more context that doesn’t make it to the movie.
Despite these small character changes, the cast is still wonderfully developed. They complement each other in many ways, quickly establishing a rich world that we can come back to (yep, there’s plenty there for a sequel). There was also quite a bit of time spent outside the rabbit-hole. Alice’s real world has a rather long exposition and Burton took the time to show her family life, the social standing, the rituals of high class. Maybe it was just to contrast the wildness of Wonderland, but I suspect the extra few scenes that frame the main adventure (and especially, the ending, after Alice comes back) can be an easy set up for a sequel – and not necessarily one that takes place in Wonderland. It’s different from the source material, but you kinda go along with it.
The biggest change from the familiar story is Alice herself. She’s older, much more mature, and initially you wouldn’t think this change would make things work. But the back-story, and the insanity of Wonderland take her by surprise, and her little discoveries along the journey (Cheshire Cat, Blue Catterpillar, the cricket game, Jabberwocky) are still magical. Alice might be older, but because she dreamed of this world before, when she was a kid, the adventurous spirit of the book is preserved.
All in all, Burton made a few changes to the familiar story and characters, but they still work together to give you a complete, beautiful world of adventure and of course social satire. It’s still there (just like in the book) and still very much tongue in cheek, between the lines. You can make notes on that, or just enjoy the visual fest and Red Queen’s enormous big head.