Movie Review: "Alice in Wonderland"

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“I think of 6 impossible things before breakfast.” We all think of impossible things throughout the day. Why I have already thought of four just writing the first line. It’s all part of our imagination. I can only imagine how many, may have thought this film to be impossible, even mad to make. This film has worded my thoughts the best way, “all the best people must be” mad. With that said, Tim Burton (Sweeny Todd, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Walt Disney Pictures have taken what many of us have beloved with the creative “madness” of a stellar cast of characters and amazing artisans, created a world full of that impossible imagination and brought it to the screen in “Alice in Wonderland”.

Alice is at the tough stage of life where a child becomes an adult and is torn as to what to do next. Continue to be young and imaginative or grow, settle down, and act proper. That is until she falls into the rabbit hole to discover that her dreams are really memories of the wonderful place called Underland. (Your brain just screeched to a halt, didn’t it?) Yes, I said Underland. In this 20th telling of Lewis Carroll’s most loved pieces of work, we find that Alice has misheard the true name of this land and has to recall everything that has happened to her before in order to help restore Underland back to normal, normal of course being a relative term of course.

Along the way we see the characters that make up this land of imagination. The ever expressive and crazy Mad Hatter played by Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean, Public Enemies).Playing Alice who is lost  in her thoughts of what to do in each world, Mia Wasikowska (Amilia, Defiance). Red “Off with their head answer to everything” Queen is played by Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter series, Sweeny Todd). The elegant of elegance, yet at times unrefined, White Queen is Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada, The Princess Diaries). Crispin Glover (Charlie’s Angels, Willard) plays Stayne-Knave of Hearts, the companion and commander of the Red Queen’s card army. “Rounding” out the humanly played cast is Matt Lucas (Shaun of the Dead) as the ever rhyming and nonsensical Tweedledee and Tweedledum. This is by no means the end of an eclectic and brilliant supporting cast of voices who bring the rest of Underland’s colorful characters to life. Stephen Fry (Bones, V for Vendetta) as the, always out for himself, Cheshire Cat, Michael Sheen(Frost/Nixon, New Moon) as the watch tapping White Rabbit, Alan Rickman (Harry Potter series, Love Actually) puffing his way through this life as the Blue Caterpillar, Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series, Enchanted) as Bayard the trusty bloodhound, Barbara Windsor (EastEnders UK) as the lovably heroic Dormouse, veteran UK actor Paul Whitehouse (Finding Neverland, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) as the caffeine deprived or maybe over stimulated March hare, and Sir Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings series, Star Wars I-III) is the ominous and forbidding Jabberwocky.

When it comes to this cast they could not do what they did without the artisans assembled. Burton brought to life the screenplay Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) adapted from Lewis Carroll’s books. Burton was able to make this film truly unique in its telling by her charming twist of the story itself. The placement of little hints to the original storyline as well as Walt Disney’s animated classic “Alice in Wonderland” is a treat to those who are very emotional to the original and to the ties the film has. Bringing out the special visual beauty of the film through the vast advances technology, four time Oscar winner, Ken Ralston (Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Through Ralston’s eyes we are transported to this world where everything has its own uniqueness. From the faces of the flowers to the ever changing landscape of Underland, Ralston pushes the envelope of CGI. My favorite scene is when we see the Red Queen’s castle for the first time. We swoop in while Tweedledee and Tweedledum are being carried back to the castle. With its assorted architectural details, it reminds me of the Winchester Mystery House, so stately yet shows just how much the queen is all about being overbearing to install fear.  Designing the feel of the characters wardrobe is two time Oscar winner, Colleen Atwood (Public Enemies, Memoirs of a Geisha). Her choice to have the two courts, Red and White being mostly of post renaissance England was in interesting touch. She gives each persona due thought in regards to why they wear the colors, fabric or fit. For example Mad Hatter with his ever changing moods is reflected in slight changes to his clothing or even having its own movement like his bowtie straightening when he smiles or the White Queen with her flowing sheer fabrics to give the feel of how she practically floats on air. Atwood has done outstanding work bringing her ideas to light. When it comes to the ambiance of the film, Burton brings in long-time collaborator, Danny Elfman (Terminator Salvation, Meet the Robinsons). Elfman’s music is by far one of the most recognizable styles of today’s modern composer. He can make a movie fill your head with all its grandeur when you close your eyes, although you do not want to close your eyes while watching this film. Do that after, when you are at home listening to the soundtrack and believe me you’ll be right back in the theater seat. Oh and don’t forget it is 3D, another reason why you do not want to close your eyes or even blink. I must say that you do not need to see the 3D version to enjoy this film. It will astound you either way.

Oh yes the four impossible thoughts:

1 – I truly thought it would be impossible for Johnny Depp to again come up with a completely different characterization for Mad Hatter. Here we are again and Depp plays the character with so much physical emotion in just his facial expressions that we can’t help to think that he truly is “mad”. The vocal changes he creates help to bring this new side of the Hatter mythos to life. Granted Ken Ralston had a little hand or should I say ‘eye’ in helping with the character by using his visual effects genius to slightly enlarge Hatters peepers. This draws you into Hatters world and see why his’ a tortured soul.

2 – A cast so diverse in nature and star studded it’s going to be impossible for Mia Wasikowska to shine. And now I insert my foot into my mouth. Mia took this little girl stuck between worlds and choices and we watched her grow. Whether she was adamant about everything being a dream and just going along for the ride or her realizing that life is about using our imagination and our experiences and conquering each step of our lives. She keeps the process fresh with whomever she comes into contact with.

3 – Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter as sisters, need I say more. Yet these two play off one another very well. Hathaway takes the elegance sometimes a bit far in acting like Glinda the good witch then breaking from how others see her and becomes more real and worried that the Red Queen is ruining the spirit of Underland. Helena as the Red Queen was comical at first until you really see that she is just tormented by the fact that people have judged her from the size of her head and in order to get back at them she turns to the use of fear, fear of losing their heads.

4 – It will be impossible for Walt Disney Pictures to improve upon what they made classic 59 years ago. Yet I sit here still reeling in the visual, audible and subtle text of what these master craftspeople have done, pure enjoyment for all to see. Walt would be proud.

To say I liked this film would be an understatement. I was enamored wit
h all its vivid imagination and whimsical being. With how we sometimes live our lives in the moment and forget what has happened in the past or will happen in the future. We have to stop sometimes and think about what are dreams and what are memories and when they are one in the same. They are our life and it’s about learning, growing and moving on to the next adventure. Now this rambling may make me sound mad but as Alice said all the best people must be. Okay I was just tooting my own horn since the White Rabbit is busy.

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