Movie review: Alice in Wonderland

BY MARISA WAY | MARCH 08, 2010 7:30 AM

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*** 1/2 out of *****

Throughout the film Alice in Wonderland, the heroine is never the right size. Alice either drinks potion and becomes too small, or she eats a magical cake and becomes too big. Only toward the end of the film does she achieve a size that is “just right.”

The movie itself might have a similar effect on audiences: Some may find it too weird, others may find it too Disney-fied, while a handful of viewers may find it just right.

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is not as much a remake of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel as it is a sequel. In the most recent version of the story, Alice is 19 years old. She has been having the same dream for 13 years — a dream that is filled with grinning cats and blue caterpillars. As a teenager, Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) doesn’t seem to belong in her world, and this doesn’t bother her much. She falls into Wonderland (literally) while escaping a social gathering that surprises her by being an engagement party — for her.

Burton gives the world Lewis Carroll created so long ago a newer, darker life. Wonderland itself has a brilliant, unusual landscape filled with talking animals and unknown creatures. At the same time, this silliness is juxtaposed with dark, swirling skies and characters that push past absurd and into neurotic.

Previews and posters that preceded the movie had the audience holding its breath for the first glimpse of the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp. While his weirdness in the film does not disappoint the viewers, the Hatter’s mumblings and musings are sometimes difficult to hear and leave the audience wondering if they are meant to be heard at all. The Hatter’s and Alice’s relationship throughout the film is an affectionate one, with each character playing the role as mentor to the other at some point.

The nonsensical qualities people have come to expect with Alice’s story are preserved. The quirky lines sprinkled throughout the 109-minute movie mostly belong to the Mad Hatter. For example, he motivates Alice into action with the comment “You’ve lost your much-ness,” and a running question throughout the story is “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” These and many other musings will either leave viewers deep in thought, chortling with laughter, or just as lost as Alice is in Wonderland.

While certain aspects of the movie allow the viewers to sit back and enjoy the film, other parts leave the audience members’ heads spinning. The supporting cast accompanying Alice through her journey definitely claim the spotlight. Anne Hathaway is enchanting as the White Queen, Alan Rickman is surprising and hilarious as the rude Blue Caterpillar, and Helena Bonham Carter’s talent is as big as the Red Queen’s head.

However, these entertaining characters can’t make up for the writing itself, which is at times rather rushed. The ending of Alice tries too hard to neatly wrap up all the questions asked throughout the movie, causing viewers to feel surprisingly unfulfilled.

Ultimately, the movie has some hits and misses. At times it will seem too big, at other times too small, and sometimes it will feel just right.

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