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>> Friday, March 5, 2010

Curiouser and curiouser...
Alice Kingsley (played well by Gwenyth Paltrow look-a-like Mia Wasikowska) is the smartest stupid girl you’re likely to meet. She has great ideas about impossible things like flying and trading goods and resources with far off lands like China - but she also talks of strange lands inhabited by rabbits with pocket watches, blue caterpillars and cats that smile. Alice is an odd girl indeed and with the trademarked catchphrase “Curiouser and curiouser.” you know she is just asking for trouble.
It isn’t ten minutes into the film before Alice finds said trouble by falling down a rabbit hole in one of the most Six Flags-like scenes your likely to see this year at a theatre near you (assuming of course you see this film in 3-D). What does she find at the bottom of this deep, dark rabbit hole? If I have to tell you, you should go back in time and punch your parents in the face for disallowing you a childhood.

Not long into Alice’s trek through ‘Underland’ (renamed by director Tim Burton), she runs into the Mad Hatter played by Johhny Depp - who does his best impression of Elijah Wood playing the Mad Hatter and certainly forgoes his usual sex appeal here to don the eyebrows of a 70 year old Scotsman and a do only Carrot Top would be envious of. Depp does well disguising himself as usual but clearly he can only go so far with other personas before he starts to reuse bits of older characters like Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka.

Hatter confirms to Alice what she heard earlier from the Blue Caterpillar (voiced by the always unimpressed Alan Rickman) – that she is there to slay the Jaberwocky, who has been terrorizing Wonderland – er…Underland, for some time now. But in order to do so Alice has to stay out of the clutches of miss “Off with their heads!” herself, the Red Queen.

The Red Queen of course, is played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is delightful and plays the role exactly as she should – without taking it too seriously. The same goes for the White Queen played by Anne Hathaway. It’s clear both actresses had a lot of fun with these characters and you can feel their energy radiate on screen because of that. It wouldn’t surprise me if after every take as soon as Burton yelled “Cut!” they burst into laughter thinking about themselves yelling “Off with their head!” or floating around like some fairy godmother high on whatever the Caterpillar is smoking.

Seeing this movie in 3-D (or at all really) will make you feel as if you too are mad as a hatter, as the visuals here don’t let down for one minute. Tim Burton did well here as both staying faithful to the original cartoon version, the books and his own crazy imagination. Nobody in Alice ever seems to be in correct proportion so it appears as if you’re watching the entire film through the bottom of a glass Coke bottle. This is more good than bad, although since everything seems to be beautifully and visually twisted and slightly offsetting, I found it at times to be so overwhelming and distracting, that it took away from some of the really fun visual stuff - like the Chesire Cat or the impressive Red Queen’s army of playing cards. That is however a very small case of “too much of a good thing” and won’t prevent you from enjoying yourself.

This is easily Tim Burton’s strongest “re-imagining” yet, which was nice to see after the disappointing Charlie and Chocolate Factory. And due to its already established fan base, Alice will undoubtedly do well - especially with the kids. Children under five or so may find it all a bit too scary, but any older than that shouldn’t have any problem dealing with some of the more disturbing things – including Burton’s odd obsession with the common phrase “an eye for an eye... for an eye… for an eye”.

Alice in Wonderland is a fun movie filled with whimsy and visual delight. It’s a nice mix between adult and kid humour and should appeal to most. The performances are well enough done you don’t feel cheated, and the visuals hold up pretty well. I did feel there could have been more lead in to build up the potential epic-ness of the movie, but when you’re there to see Wonderland perhaps it doesn’t matter. The door is open here, so go on and drink that tiny bottle of shrinking potion and walk on through to the delightful world on the other side.
*Stills courtesy of Walt Disney

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