Take any project and fill all of the roles with talented and experienced people and success is nearly guaranteed. Movies are no different. When all of the characters are played by recognizable faces or voices every aspect of the film is a little more beautiful, dramatic, funny and exciting. Alice in Wonderland benefits from a cast and crew of Hollywood veterans and the result is a visually stunning package that will be appreciated across the spectrum of ages. For what it’s worth, however, older viewers will be less impressed.
This version of Alice in Wonderland takes places years after Alice’s initial adventures. She’s 19 now and her spotty memories of Wonderland have been dismissed as fanciful – albeit recurring – dreams. Her father has passed away and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is set to be proposed to by a suitor she doesn’t care for who is part of a family she doesn’t like. Overwhelmed by her unpleasant prospects and dreading her future, Alice notices a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and chases after it. In doing so, she falls down a rabbit hole and finds herself in the fascinating world of Wonderland – as she thinks it’s called, anyway. There she meets the strange inhabitants that populate the world, like Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and, of course, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). Unfortunately, Alice may not be the Alice the inhabitants hope she is. Only the real Alice can confront the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and end her tyranny.
First and foremost, Alice in Wonderland looks amazing. For the most part, Wonderland’s presentation is on par with most people’s imagination. Mushrooms loom large and inviting. Battlefields are chessboards. Decapitated heads float in the Red Castle’s moat. The score – composed by Danny Elfman – is the perfect complement to Wonderland. The music is magical and dreamy, but never tries to manipulate audiences’ feelings. Rather, the score simply adds another beautiful and subtle texture to the film without drawing attention to itself. The characters are also well-designed, with the Red Queen’s bulbous head, the armored Card Knights and the Cheshire Cat with his disquieting grin and mellifluous movements. The Mad Hatter, on the other hand, might be a little overkill on the “strange factor” even if the idea was to physically display his madness.
Overall, the cast is fun to watch. Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by Matt Lucas) are adequately silly and nonsensical. Helena Bonham Carter commands the screen in every scene she’s in and it’s obvious she’s absolutely enjoying her role. Her counterpart, Anne Hathaway, also manages to eke out a darker dimension to her otherwise Goody Two-Shoes character. Even the animated characters are expressive and sympathetic, thanks to excellent voice acting and artistry. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter seems more eccentric than mad, but won’t necessarily disappoint. The Mad Hatter shines when something triggers a particular train of thought, setting off wild tantrums, but during these moments he’s almost unintelligible, mitigating the fun. The weakest member of the cast, unfortunately, is newcomer Mia Wasikowska as Alice. Her performance is bland throughout the film, lacking steep crests and deep valleys of emotion even when she’s involved in something dramatic. Her performance stands out even more since she has to play the straight-man to all of the zany characters around her. Wasikowska is never bad, mind you; she’s just lackluster.
Adult audiences may be a little disappointed with the plot. Certain events happen that seem important, but in the end don’t really matter. When a special scroll is stolen that can foretell the future, another character has to steal it back during a tense stealth scene. Unfortunately, the scroll doesn’t come up again for the rest of the film. Another time characters escape certain death by using an ability that was never previously disclosed. So when this ability is finally used it seems absolutely random. On the upside, children will hardly care about these minor complaints.
Finally, a word about the 3D presentation: Overall, it was unnecessary. Due to the heavy use of Green Screen there was no reason to shoot in 3D. Instead, the 2D footage was converted to 3D afterwards, resulting in mediocre effects this time around. The filmmakers made a conscious effort not to make the 3D effect a gimmick by poking things in audiences’ faces, but went too far with the subtlety. At times, viewers will probably forget that they’re watching a 3D film. If you can find it, Alice in Wonderland might be better enjoyed in its native form.