"Alice in Wonderland" crazy, charming

Ariel "The Gossip Girl" | Every Girl Blog
March 31, 2010

For my birthday in July, I'm having an "Alice in Wonderland" party. I decided this about a half hour into Tim Burton's dystopic version of the classic story by Lewis Carroll.

"Alice" has been around for a long time; first written in 1865, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" has never been out of print and has been translated into 125 languages. There have been countless adaptations -- from movies to operas to an X-rated cartoon -- but the latest one, directed by Burton, is the cream of the crop.

When I went to see "Alice in Wonderland," I was a tad apprehensive. I'd heard not-so-good things from others, and Burton has a tendency to creep me out. But I tried to go into the movie with an open mind ... a mind that, two hours later, was blown away.

The 2010 version is meant to be a sort of sequel to Disney's 1951 cartoon version; it takes place 13 years after Alice's first trip to Wonderland, when she is 19 years old. Think the 1991 "Hook" -- a live-action sequel to the Disney cartoon version. There are elements of Carroll's "Adventures" and its sequel "Through the Looking Glass," a combination much like Disney's 1951 version of the story.

As Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is proposed to by a repulsive Lord Hamish, she runs away from the huge crowd of arranged onlookers and finds a hole, which she falls down to arrive into a small room. She drinks a shrinking potion, eats a growing cake and eventually wanders into Underland, a dystopia of the Wonderland young Alice visited. There, she learns the Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter, has taken over the whole world. The creatures of Underland ask excitedly if she is "The Alice," come to save them all by defeating the Jabberwocky.

The plot is not overly complicated (we see the outcome in the first half hour on a prophecy-telling scroll), but as a children's movie, this isn't surprising. The feel of the movie has the typical Burton eeriness, but still manages to capture the wonder of Wonderland. What surprised me was how often I ended up laughing: humor was a big part of what made this movie work.

The cast of characters shone; From a masterly Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter to Wasikowska's performance, each actor was spot on. I often have problems with female heroines annoying me (Lucy from "Across the Universe", Buttercup from "The Princess Bride"), but I was pleased to find Wasikowska's Alice charmingly innocent yet full of rock star determination and "muchness".

Depp, known for his colorful performances, excelled with the Hatter. The wide-eyed, slightly lisping Hatter came off as endearingly crazy (as Alice says later, the best kind of people are insane) and easily captivates the audience.

Likewise, the big-headed Red Queen is quite funny as the evil ruler of Underland. Her demands range from cutting off everyone's heads to having her "fat boys" (Tweedledee and Tweedledum played by Matt Lucas) around to amuse her. Truthfully, Carter's Red Queen wasn't very scary as a villain, but the Red Knave Stayne (Crispin Glover) filled the "scary villain" position quite nicely.

(I had been a little apprehensive about the Queen's big head when I saw the trailers online. I wasn't really sure what the point was. I'm still not really sure what the point was, but it allowed for a few funny jabs.)

Anne Hathaway as the White Queen put her "Princess Diaries" training to excellent use; the fluttering hands and noble behavior was surprisingly funny.

The costuming was another highlight. Every time Alice grew or shrank, I loved her new outfit more than the last. Colleen Atwood's costume design combined traditional "Alice" style with a high fashion, Urban Outfitters feeling.

I didn't see the movie in 3D, but I'm happy to say nothing was lost for me. The movie was an explosion of color and the scenery was simultaneously beautiful and eerie.

I would highly recommend this movie, both to long-time residents of Wonderland and those less familiar to the story. Don't expect an extremely complicated plot or life-changing CGI. Expect a new spin on a classic story with an excellent cast and a lot of laughs.

Have you seen Alice in Wonderland? Did you dig it?