Alice in Wonderland

Although Alice in Wonderland is not one of Tim Burton's best movies, it is certainly one of his more charming ones.

It has been long, eleven years to be precise, since Tim Burton successfully employed his skewered imagination to an adaptation that worked. Not since 1999’s Sleepy Hollow has this eccentric film-maker made a movie that rekindled hope in fans-turned-critics that there may yet be good films in him. Although Alice in Wonderland is not one of Tim Burton’s best movies, it is certainly one of his more charming ones, being a mix of old school Disney magic and Burtonesque surreal visuals.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska), 19 years old and ready to be married off by her widow mother, suffers from nightmares of falling down a rabbit-hole and weird tea-parties. When she does encounter a waistcoat wearing rabbit, with a pocket-watch, and re-enters Underland, as Wonderland has become under the tyranny of the Red Queen (a deliciously evil Helena Bonham Carter), she starts believing in her dream and sets out to fulfill her destiny. Along the way, she encounters known but forgotten friends: Tweedledee & Tweedledum, Cheshire Cat, Blue Caterpillar, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and a quite mad Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp).

Possibly the biggest risk Tim Burton takes with his adaptation of Lewis Carol’s classic children’s story is letting Alice grow into a young adult, and have her re-visit Wonderland. Most of us remember the bedtime story only in broad strokes and for its intriguing characters rather than the details of the events. Burton puts his grown Alice in the very same shoes and lets the audience re-discover Wonderland with her. Undoubtedly there is enough variance in the story to credit it to artistic liberty, yet soaking the narrative in nostalgia makes it a treat as the story and characters unfold and familiarity seeps in. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, among the other characters, is given the most screen time and importance – unfortunately just enough to also let it become overkill. Like Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp has recently become a caricature of the wonderful actor that he was, his on-screen histrionics a shadow of his past deliveries. On the contrary, Helena Bonham Carter is delightful as the Red Queen, screaming “Off with their heads” with frequent frenzy. In a movie of theatrical performances, Carter barely refrains from going over the top, playing the queen with a splendid wicked haughtiness that amusingly channels a jealous elder sibling. By the end though, Burton is unable to hold on to his self, unleashing a cliché Lord of the Rings inspired battle finale followed by a bizarre Mad Hatter dance that sadly diminishes much of what the movie achieves till then.

Alice in Wonderland is showing in 3D wherever possible. Much like Avatar, it uses the technology not for obvious exploitation (poking objects out of the screen), but to make the fictional world within the movie more engrossing. This does not add any perceptible value to the movie’s narrative itself, and hence was not essential. Character blemishes and clichés aside, Burton crazy imagery is a treat to behold, 3D or otherwise.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Shariq Madani

Shariq is a social, talkative, fun-loving guy who enjoys books, food and a long drive. But his real joy is in the comfortable darkness of a cinema, watching a good movie, and later spending hours discussing it.