BURTON GIVES ‘ALICE’ A FACELIFT

Ever since its publication all the way back in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” has delighted, puzzled, pleased, disturbed, entertained, and even frightened its readers. The book also has undergone myriad adaptations for the big screen, the stage, and television.

But the most unique film version of this seemingly timeless story opened nationwide this past weekend, and, like the book upon which it is based, this rendition, directed by Tim Burton (“Ed Wood”) and starring the incomparable Johnny Depp, probably will enchant some and alienate others. But I found the film to be a delightfully fresh and entertaining adaptation of the story, and it’s a movie filled with spectacular images, stellar special effects, and outstanding acting.

This time around, Alice is not the 7-and-a-half-year-old girl that she was in the book. Instead, Burton’s Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a stunningly beautiful 19-year-old young woman who is being pursued by an obnoxiously arrogant and insufferably stuffy fellow bent on marrying her. Alice remembers being in Wonderland when she was a girl, and she still dreams about the creatures she met there, but on the day when she is supposed to receive her marriage proposal, she ventures into the woods and falls down that famous rabbit hole one more time.

When she arrives at the bottom of the hole, Alice finds out that the real name of the place is Underland and not Wonderland. She also learns that the kingdom now is under the domination of the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), whose claim to the crown is being challenged by the lovely White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Alice also soon realizes that a prophecy says that she will side with the White Queen and fight a horrifying monster. At first Alice wants no part of taking sides in the war, but when she observes the intensity of the Red Queen’s ruthlessness, she decides to see what she can do to help the White Queen.

Fans of the book will find all of their favorite characters beautifully represented in the film. In addition to the white rabbit (voice by Michael Sheen), the two queens, and the Mad Hatter (Depp), you’ll encounter the knave of hearts (Crispin Glover), Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucus), Absolem the Caterpillar (voice by Alan Rickman), Chessur the Cheshire Cat (voice by Stephen Fry), Mallymkun the Dormous (voice by Barbara Windsor), the Dodo (voice by Michael Gough), the Jabberwocky (voice by Sir Christopher Lee), the March Hare (voice by Paul Whitehouse), and Bayard the Bloodhound (voice by Timothy Spall).

Be forewarned, however, that this film is not suitable for very young children despite its PG rating. The movie contains some characters that very well could frighten children too young to handle them, and several other scenes portray some rather graphic violence.

“Alice in Wonderland” (Give it a score of 8.5.) marks the seventh time Burton and Depp have teamed up to make a film, and, whether you like them or not, all of them certainly have been memorable. This one is no exception. In fact, it is a visual feast, and the three-dimension is just a bonus. The colors and the costumes in this film are nothing short of stunning, and the acting is consistently superb.

As you would expect, Depp’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter is a real treat. Depp is an actor who thrives on playing offbeat characters, and he’s quite simply the best in the business at doing so. In addition to the requisite zaniness, he imbues his character with an irresistible sensitivity, and in certain scenes when he looks at Alice, his eyes speak volumes without a syllable’s being uttered. In the film’s production notes, Depp expressed his admiration for the book and his belief that the author would be pleased with this particular interpretation of it.

“I’m a huge fan of the book. It’s such a beast in terms of invention, of literary achievement. It’s as brilliant and as fresh and as new and as interesting today as it was then. I truly believe that Lewis Carroll would be ecstatic because the movie is done with such respect and is rooted deeply in the original material. This story by Carroll, along with the characters, under Tim Burton’s vision is a real treat.”

Matching Depp’s stellar performance are Wasikowska as the most beautiful Alice ever, Hathaway as the perfectly eloquent White Queen, and Bonham Carter as the deliciously dastardly Red Queen. Add the amazingly realistic animation coupled with a powerfully moving musical score by Danny Elfman, and the result is an incredibly innovative, interesting, and entertaining film. In fact, it’s wondrous.

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