True, this is not Disney's previous Alice in Wonderland... though it does feel remarkably familiar. The Red Queen is there, as is The White Rabbit! Tweedledee and Tweedledum are both lolling about, along with the Dormouse, the March Hare and the CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD, The Mad Hatter! Look closely and you might even find the Cheshire Cat... and watch closely or else that Huka-Toking Caterpillar might find you! It makes me wonder why they didn't just combine and become the Cheshire Caterpillar. Sorry.
Yes... it's safe to say that Wonderland looks pretty familiar... to everybody EXCEPT ALICE.
You see, True Believers, as previously mentioned, Alice Kingsleigh is now all-but-all-grown-up and looking a lot like Mia Wasikowska! She has long since relegated her childish dreams to the land of the dreaming itself. Frighteningly enough she's now of marriageable age and even more frighteningly young and dorky Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is determined to become her betrothed. However, while Alice might not remember Wonderland (as anything more than the hint of a dream) she hasn't given up that strange sense of whimsy and wonder that her father instilled in her with stories of other realities.
Remember or not, strange echoes of Wonderland are all the preparation she is going to get before she falls right down that rabbit hole once again, chasing after that same old White Rabbit bunny-buddy (voiced by Michael Sheen). The same size-fight between the "Drink Me" and the "Eat Me" takes place and she rolls out into the same Wonderland (or "Underland", as the case may be), but she doesn't remember a thing. It's to the point that almost everyone she meets starts to doubt that she is, in fact, the REAL Alice.
And, to quote our dear heroine, from that point things only get curiouser and curiouser! Indeed, this is only the beginning. Alice runs into friends and foes from Bayard the Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) to the aforementioned Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), Hare (Paul Whitehouse) and the ever-quipping Dee and Dum (both played by Matt Lucas) to the Dodo Bird (Michael Gough) to the Tall Flower Faces (Imelda Staunton) to the vicious monster the Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee)! It's hardly a secret that the main star and attraction here isn't Alice, but that chairman of the Maddish Hatterish board, Johnny Depp, who is excellent here, all pathos and sympathetic insanity (his accent is flawless, too). However, what may not be known is that all of these players may just be pawns in the war between the bickering sisters, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and the Red Queen (played by a CGI distorted Helena Bonham Carter).
The Red Queen's dark forces, led by the equally CGI twisted and elongated Crispin Glover (as Stayne, the Knave of Hearts) have taken over the once peaceful, albeit strange wonderland of Underland and the remaining good guys have only one remaining Alice in the Hole... that is... if she's really Alice at all.
Dark, this movie most certainly is! Truly, this is kid-friendly for the most part and it has that same Tim Burton playfulness and cuteness, but it has just as much, or more, of the Tim Burton edge, manifesting itself in strange creatures, black comedy and bleak dreamscapes. The hint of war is omnipresent here as is the threat of death (some even demonstrated onscreen). There are frightening creatures, decimated lands, betrayal, shocks and even one Fulcian Eye-Popping scene. It may be uplifting for kids and even includes the now-classic Tim Burton irony and justice, but that darkness is all over. By the same token, this is no evil tale. It's quite, quite good!
Good over evil. It may not be a complete Star Wars or Lord of the Rings battle, but it's up there with The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter! For this and many other reasons, Alice in Wonderland is fully worth at least Four Stars out of Five! It's a very fine film with excellent special effects, quality set design and imagination, capable directing and writing, very good acting (even the over-the-top moments work) and a great feel to it... not to mention a great musical score by Danny Elfman. For all the changes, amalgamations and expansions from Lewis Carroll's novel, this is far from a travesty and manages to be worthy of its sequel status. Dig in... and I'll see YOU wild, wonderful folks in the next MYSTICAL reel!
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