Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton has once again created a twisted, colorful world full of bizarre creatures (both human and not), fascinating visuals, and eye-popping effects. It’s a highly entertaining (mind) trip, that will whisk you away to a world you’ve never seen before.

But let’s be honest… it’s not Alice in Wonderland.

Yes, Burton’s movie and Lewis Carroll’s book may have characters in common (the Caterpillar, the Red Queen, the White Rabbit), and isolated scenes may seem familiar (falling down the rabbit hole, “Eat me”/”Drink me”, hedgehog croquet). But even Alice herself is like her literary counterpart in name only. Now a late-teenager (played by the perpetually dour-faced Mia Wasikowska), she has none of book-Alice’s child-like innocence; it’s not even a wonderful dream that causes her to fall down the hole but a frantic run to catch a rabbit (and flee her engagement party.) And Wonderland itself? No longer. It’s now Underland.

Huh?

Screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Disney’s The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast) apparently thought that audiences wouldn’t sit still for a nonsensical tale about a little girl wandering through a dreamland, even one directed by Tim Burton. So, she’s turned Alice in Wonderland into a violence-driven action/drama about a manhunt (er, Alicehunt) and the search for a sword that can be used to slaughter a hideous monster.

Now– don’t get me wrong… in and of itself, Alice in Wonderland (the movie) is excellent. It will keep you firmly on the edge of your seat, and your eyes will need a break from all the stunning visuals (though, as with Pixar’s Up, I suspect I missed quite a few of them since my brain was focusing more on the -highly unnecessary- 3D-ness than the movie itself).

Johnny Depp is, of course, pitch-perfect as the Mad Hatter, further solidifying his place among the most unique and versatile actors in the business today. Helena Bonham Carter surprisingly makes her one-note (“Off with her head!”) role as the Red Queen very watchable, and the voice work by Alan Rickman (Caterpillar), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), and Michael Sheen (White Rabbit) is off-the-charts good.

In typical Burton fashion, the movie is very colorful, but it’s also very grim and actually quite violent, including a vicious swordfight, an eye-gouging, an eye-stabbing, a lengthy frantic chase at the hands of the bandersnatch, a near-beheading, a fire-filled attack, and a tip-toe over a moat full of severed heads—just to name a few. (Doesn’t sound very Carroll-ish, does it?)

Alice in Wonderland is not a kids movie (I suspect Burton was this close to getting a PG-13 rating but removed a few seconds of film to keep it PG).

It will almost surely go down as one of Burton’s (and Depp’s) best, but don’t walk into the theater expecting the book, or (even more so) the wonderfully silly 1951 animated Disney classic.

This is one trip to Wonderland (er, Underland) that won’t leave you singing “The Unbirthday Song”.

4/5 stars