| Walt Disney Pictures pairs quirky genius filmmaker Tim Burton (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Beetlejuice”) with the extremely popular actor Johnny Depp (“The Pirates of the Caribbean” series) for the seventh time in the first big movie event of 2010.
Your very important date is a complete reimagining of the classic fairy tales “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass,” written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll.
The script by Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King”) includes all the familiar characters, story elements and central themes. The most significant changes are that Alice (relatively unknown Australian Mia Wasikowska previously seen in “That Evening Sun,” “Amelia” and “Defiance”) is on the verge of turning 20 and the place she ends up after tumbling down a rabbit hole is “Underland.”
The movie borrows ideas from “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” while visually mixing live action and computer graphics animation.
The movie is set in Victorian-era England 13 years after Alice’s first trip underground. Alice is a pale and sullen girl suffering from recurring nightmares. She attends a formal garden party where a red-headed dunce from a wealthy aristocratic family asks her to marry him. At this momentous crossroads in her life, Alice replies, “I need a moment.” She then runs away through the garden greenery in pursuit of a white rabbit. She falls down a hole in a tree trunk as a unique take on March Madness begins.
Alice is shrunk, stretched, scratched and trapped in a teapot. She ultimately transforms into a Joan of Arc knockoff riding a white steed and clothed in body armor. She wields an Excalibur-style sword and shield while battling a dragon that shoots lightning bolts rather than fiery flames.
“Underland” is embroiled in a catfight between rival royal sisters over a queenly crown. The evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has a bulbous head and frequently shouts her trademark line “Off with their heads!” She is feared rather than loved by the citizenry. Her younger sister is The White Queen (Anne Hathaway). She represents the side of goodness.
The movie culminates in a battle played out on a chessboard. The red soldiers are all playing cards and the white army consists of chess pieces.
Alice has no memory of her first visit. All the strange creatures have an ongoing debate regarding whether she is “the” Alice from more than a decade ago. Depp gets the enlarged plum role of The Mad Hatter. He continues to march to a different drummer. His wild eyes, orange hair and Scottish accent turn his character into a crazed lunatic that could have recently escaped from an insane asylum. He delights in chewing up the scenery and always trying to upstage Alice.
The movie makes a strong case for female empowerment, but Wasikowka lacks the endearing quality of a prepubescent heroine. The movie’s strengths are the costumes, the makeup, the production design, the special effects, the vocal work and a terrific musical score by Danny Elfman that has a quality of magic and wonderment missing from the screenplay. This action-heavy adventure lacks the sense of awe and excitement found in the classic bedtime fairy tale adored by generations. Family audiences seeking humor and a high fun quotient would be better served by checking out the animated Disney classic from 1951.
Due to the dark and somber tone, this latest extravaganza is not suitable for boys and girls under the age of 10. This movie has already revolutionized how, when and where we watch new cinematic releases in the digital age. The theatrical run will be one month shorter than the customary 17 weeks with an accelerated DVD release at the end of May.
The movie is being shown in three different formats. Besides the standard 2D on 35 mm film stock, you can choose the more expensive route complete with special glasses in either Disney Digital 3D or IMAX 3D. The IMAX 3D version is available exclusively in Johnson County at AMC Studio 30.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"