Falling back down the rabbit hole

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March 16, 2010

2:27 AM

When Tim Burton decided to direct the live-action version of Lewis Carroll’s beloved “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” two cults began anticipating what was sure to be either an epic flop or a great trip back to Wonderland.

Thankfully, it was the latter.

For those that have never read the book or seen the original 1951 Disney movie, the new version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ will be an enjoyable and trippy experience. Those already familiar with the story will either be upset by how the latest interpretation varies from the original or enjoy it as an opportunity to reunite with some familiar characters.

The movie opens with Alice as a young girl, scared by nightmares of her adventures in Wonderland. It then jumps forward 13 years to her would-be engagement party, where, despite believing her adventures a dream, a familiar white rabbit leads her into Wonderland once again.

Here is where the story devolves into a traditional epic. There is a prophecy, the reluctant hero, a battle between good and evil and, inevitably, a happy ending.

The Red Queen has taken over Wonderland, wreaking havoc and desolation. Only Alice can slay the jabberwocky and restore the crown to the White Queen.

Despite the simple and generic storyline, there is a plot. Rather than sitting back and enjoying the opiate-induced musings of a 19th century writer, there is a clear beginning, middle and end. In a smart move, Burton, rather than creating a whole new storyline, centers the plot on a portion of the book.

Diehard Alice fans will enjoy the many cameos of familiar characters like the rocking horse flies, the flower women and the hedgehog, as well as the lines of Carroll’s prose written into the movie’s dialogue.

Burton also makes Alice’s life in the real world mirror her adventures in Wonderland. Her would-be mother-in-law shouts about roses; a la the Red Queen, and an annoying set of twins prattle on just like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Most of Burton’s interpretations of the story’s characters are creatively conceived, putting an edgy spin on the cartoon versions. Alice, played by newcomer Mia Wasikowska, is the same spunky girl determined to forge her own path and think for herself, even in a world full of nonsense. But the new grown-up version of Alice, in search of her “muchness,” takes bigger risks and thinks on her feet. Johnny Depp, as usual, is excellent, portraying the Mad Hatter as a crazed but sympathetic man in desperate need of some hair care. Helena Bonham Carter plays the giant-headed Queen of Hearts to perfection, and Anne Hathaway plays a great White Queen without overacting the part.

Perhaps the only character letdowns are the Chesire Cat and the Caterpillar. Sadly, we just don’t get to see enough of the Cat, and the Caterpillar sounds a bit too much like Severus Snape of the “Harry Potter” films.
The movie’s last 10 minutes, in which Alice returns from Wonderland, make for a cheesy ending to an otherwise adult version of the classic children’s tale. It’s less believable than Wonderland.

All in all, it’s an enjoyable, and at times funny, venture to a world that holds a special place in many people’s childhood memories.

Upon leaving Wonderland, Alice comforts the Mad Hatter by saying she’ll be back soon. We can’t wait.

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