I nearly laughed out loud at the family of three seated beside me, as the dad loudly remarked that they are probably the only persons in the hall who have read Lewis Carroll's books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the follow up Through the Looking Glass. It's one thing to try and brag to all around that they are well read and learned, and it's another actually to know that it's probably not Tim Burton's style to adapt a classic to the T, given various adaptations from print to screen thus far. The characters are clearly from both books with events vaguely resembling what was read before, but this film is a totally different ballgame altogether.
In some ways, the narrative screenplay that Linda Woolverton adapted seemed to be more in line with Steven Spielberg 1991's effort Hook, which had Robin Williams star as Peter Pan in the retelling of the J.M. Barrie character, only that Pan had grown up, and had forgotten his roots and experiences in Never Never Land. While the characters in that world clearly remembered him (although older, pudgier and without the ability to fly), much of the story explored how Pan had to rediscover his touch and memories of the place he once called home.
Which to Alice, played by the relative fresh and ethereal looking Mia Wasikowska, the audience joins her in that similar route to discovery, and we're left wondering really, like the rest of the characters, whether we're all mistaken if this Alice was the same as the one we grew up with, the wide eyed child who flitted from one random event to another in Underland, encountering fantastical characters such as talking animals, to jealous kings and queens. It's not quite how we remembered it to be, and Tim Burton also cheekily showed glimpses of how it would look like if he had played this movie straight, but that would be losing a lot of fun that had found its way to his vision, so much so that he provides such a trippy ride, you'd wonder who was more loony, Burton, or Carroll himself.
In fact, every character here seemed a little mad or come with that tinge of insanity, even the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) herself seemed a little bit over the top in her all white goodness. And the host of characters we come to love, such as the constantly grinning Cheshire cat, the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the rabbit with the watch, and plenty of card soldiers now given a bit more flesh, all make a cinematic comeback thanks to the wonderful world of computer graphics, and 3D technology to make them all pop out of the screen vividly. While there were plenty of specially crafted 3D moments to enhance the visual storytelling (the final battle scene involving Alice being the most outstanding I've seen thus far), kudos also went to the wealth of British talent roped in for roles both in the flesh, CG enhanced or providing voices to their graphical representation, with the likes of Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Christopher Lee and even Michael Gough, who had collaborated with Tim Burton before.
And this film, like most of Burton's others, comes the return of long time collaborators Danny Elfman in music, Helena Bonham Carter having a field day as the ridiculously evil Red Queen with her big head being the butt of most jokes, and Johnny Depp, who wows in yet another unorthodox role as The Mad Hatter, given more screen time and more depth compared to the novels. We know how outlandish Depp can become each time he's in a Tim Burton film, and Alice in Wonderland is no different, but surprise surprise, Mia Wasikowska's performance as the titular character got curiouser and curiouser as the film went along, which is a good thing since she delivered enough not to be overawed by her co-stars, and stood her ground in making the character her own.
She's quite the clotheshorse too, given the opportunity to showcase some Underland fashion sense no thanks to her changing body size. She becomes quite the reluctant blonde messiah to Underland whose presence rings forth the prophecy in the change of ruler-ship. In her own world, we see how she's quite the stubborn girl who is a far cry from societal demands of fulfilling one's role as a dutiful young wife to a rich lord (thanks to her good looks), taking off during a surprise proposal ceremony in order to follow the white rabbit. Mia Wasikowska fit the bill as this headstrong girl with that tinge of uncertainty and curiosity, and makes it a delight to follow her in one heck of an adventure filled with comedy, danger, and spectacular computer generated graphics.
Purist shouldn't go up in arms that the film didn't stick to their beloved tale, as it had enough Easter eggs and references contained within that will please the fans when they spot them. This one in my opinion had more bite, and fit quite well as a compendium of sorts to the established classics, showing that Burton has the insane gall to add his own Midas touch to entertain the masses, with a quality effort complete with amazingly designed visuals that just might make everyone go pick up the books and give them a read again. Highly recommended!