Would you believe Johnny Depp downplays his character so that Mia Wasikowska’s Alice can shine? You will… and it works. This may be the most fantastic, wondrous, and sinister realization of Alice’s wonderland to date.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has grown into a young woman believing that her dreams of “Wonderland” were exactly that. Now as an adult on the cusp of a life-altering decision, the White Rabbit has returned for Alice. It seems the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has tricked the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) into relinquishing her crown, and fate has decided that only Alice herself can defeat the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen’s reign for all time. But it’s all just a dream, isn’t it?
If you paid attention to the above synopsis, you’ll notice that one name doesn’t appear: Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter. While the previews would suggest he’s the main character, nothing could be further from the truth. From Crispin Glover’s portrayal of both Stayne and the Knave of Hearts to Alan Rickman’s stoning Blue Caterpillar, all the parts appear cast for the character regardless of the importance they play in Alice’s world. That said, Depp’s Hatter does step up to the challenge a bit more than in past portrayals but only a little more than the rest of the characters.
Director Tim Burton has always had envisioned his film worlds as grand stages where every element is a reinvention (which the obvious exception of his Planet of the Apes remake, but we’ll let that one pass.) As such, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are stories rife with kind of imagination Burton thrives on. Using the latest in film imagery and computer generation, everything in Alice’s world is a distortion of reality with a Tim Burton twist. Whereas James Cameron’s Avatar looked like someplace that should exist but sadly doesn’t, Burton’s Wonderland looks like a place that shouldn’t exist but happily does… right there on the screen.
Due to the sheer number of studios now competing for 3D space, I couldn’t find a 3D presentation of Alice that wasn’t sold out. But even in plain old 2D, the movie still felt visually organic and transporting. It doesn’t happen often in Hollywood, but sometimes all of the elements come together, from the director’s vision and the writer’s story to the production sets and costume design. Of course, being a Disney show, you can count on all this coming to Broadway in the next year or so, but you didn’t expect anything less, did you? It’s all about the surreal.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out four)