Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.
Alice in Wonderland was your typical Tim Burton dark vision of a normally happy story, filled with great visuals and solid performances, but lacking a sense of humor.
Alice, now a grown up 19 year old woman on the verge of getting married, is transported back to Wonderland in order to help her friends defeat the Red Queen. Since the Red Queen stole power of Wonderland with her ultimate weapon, the Jabberwock, life has been unbearable for the people/creatures of this underworld. Alice, it has been foretold, will return and lead the White Queen to victory in a battle for Wonderland. But this Alice isn't as sold on the whole idea of Wonderland and constantly believes she's in a dream and unable to do what is asked of her. But as things get worse, and her friend the Mad Hatter is taken by the Red Queen, Alice knows she must muster all the strength she has to help. But will the Jabberwock be too much, even for the chosen one?
When I heard Tim Burton was taking on Alice in Wonderland I knew it wasn't going to be your typical family film. His vision, while tremendous, is also very dark. And add in his favorite collaborator, Johnny Depp, and you knew this take on the classic Lewis Carroll story wouldn't be... normal. Transferred into 3D, the visuals in the film are astounding. It's a very dark, yet colorful world filled with unimaginable creatures and characters. The characters are either very amusing or rather scary depending on your point of view. Take the Mad Hatter for instance. With his wild orange hair and oversized eyes, he's either the kind of person you feel sorry for or someone that will haunt your dreams forever. Tweedledee and Tweedledum are along the same lines. They're roly-poly kids that are humorously dumb or creepy large sized children who could roll over you and kill you. And the Red Queen with her tremendous head on a tiny body was the same - was she funny looking to the point of being able to laugh at her? Or was she just plain creepy? How you view the characters will ultimately decide how you feel about the movie. I think it's a bit too scary (and at times, slow) for younger children, but the older you get, the more you can appreciate it.
I did find the movie slow, even with the eye-popping visuals and the myriad of entertaining characters, and I think the reason for that is that the movie wasn't very funny. There were very few lighthearted movies to ease the darkness and tension of the film. The movie starts off in the real world, with a grown-up Alice being proposed to by a man she doesn't love. Her father has disappeared/died and she's stuck in a life she doesn't want. Her escape to Wonderland, while terrifying, is almost welcome. When she reaches the place she thought she only dreamed about, it's not a happy place. She's forgotten her friends, and their world is falling apart. And they keep telling her either she's the wrong Alice, or that she must slay a creature that only exists in nightmares. Her best friend, the Mad Hatter, has gone off the deep end and spends his time having tea parties with a crazier rabbit and a mouse who wants to stab things. Alice keeps shifting in size depending on what she eats or drinks, and now has a Red Queen who wants her dead. There isn't much to be happy about in Alice in Wonderland and I think that lack of happiness and humor held the movie back.
That being said, I did love a lot of the performances. I completely fell in love with Mia Wasikowska as Alice. She's beautiful and played the role as it was written - to be scared and wary even though she slowly starts to realize that this world is real and not a dream. I only wish she had more chances to open up and see the humor in her situation, instead of always having to run around. Johnny Depp was a very convincing crazy person as the Mad Hatter. His look certainly helped, but his going back and forth between different accents was even better. To me, a person is more crazy when they sometimes slip into normal behavior before going back to being crazy. It allows you to feel some real empathy for them, knowing that underneath a normal person still lives. Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen chewed up the scenery as only she can do. The visual of her large head on a tiny body was rather amusing although somewhat unnecessary. Anne Hathaway as the White Queen didn't add a whole lot to the film. A less well-known actress might have been a better choice since we wouldn't have expected as much from her. I loved the voice talent of the film, with Matt Lucas doing Tweedledee/Tweedledum and Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar leading the way. And Stephen Fry's take on the Cheshire Cat was brilliant.
And then of course there was the stunning visuals. Tim Burton has always had an eye for visuals and Alice in Wonderland just goes to another level. A gothic children's story almost seems right up his alley. It's both creepy and wonderful at the same time. There aren't a lot of 3D tricks in the film, but the 3D does help make you feel more a part of the film. It it necessary to see the movie in 3D? Probably not, but if you're into 3D (and you better be since the studios are gonna force it on you whether you like it or not) it's fun to see everything with such depth and warmth.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I liked Alice in Wonderland but I felt it was lacking in humor and happiness to make it a truly great movie. Still, the visuals and acting are enough to take a chance on it.