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This long-awaited and much-hyped adaptation from the wonderful Tim Burton doesn’t disappoint. It is a biggie to take on as Lewis Carroll’s Alice books are near the pinnacle of children’s literature and have been adapted for the screen from everyone since Disney. (Fortunately Burton isn’t too Disneyesque here). Furthermore, they already have a ‘look’ after the Victorian artist John Tenniel adorned the originals with his superb bulbous, inky characters. Burton wisely goes for the same visual universe but adds some Burtonian magic all of his own. There are looks in here we recognise from Sleepy Hollow and from James and the Giant Peach, but that is not a bad thing it just proves that he has developed and refined a recognisable personal style.

Burton has also attracts a top drawer cast. As well as his usual suspects (Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter as the capricious and decapitation-prone Red Queen), he has just about every recent great character actor in there. Steven Fry plays the brilliantly-animated Cheshire cat, Alan Rickman is the famous hookah-smoking caterpillar and Tim Spall voices a faithful bloodhound. There’s some good transatlantic additions too Anne Hathaway needs no facial morphing as the White Queen as her eyes are already as big as saucers, while Crispin Glover does a great turn as a sneaky underling. Perhaps the stand out new rendition is Matt Little Britain Lucas as both Tweedledee and Tweedledum. He looks and is hilarious. Expect plastic action figure collectables of those guys.

That said, there are some slightly odd choices. Burton has fronted-ended the story with a new story line about the adult Alice getting married. It is not so much that the original doesn’t need any plot additions (it is surely in the spirit of the books to go into illogical diversions) but – well-realised though it is – the sequence doesn’t seem to add anything for the child’s imagination. Its chief purpose seems to be a plot device to ensure that the Alice who wonders through the dreamscape is a young adult. The actress (relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska) is suitably plucky and resourceful in adapting to the demands of her extraordinary dream, but the story still works best if she is a little girl. Perhaps the subsequently documented inappropriate desire that the real author probably felt for his niece Alice (un-acted upon we must also record) made the producers nervous. If so it is a classic case of the modern disease of imagining that one should make reality easier to handle by pretending it is otherwise. Contrarywise it makes reality less comprehensible as Tweedledee and Tweedledum could have told you.

Also not wholly welcome is the use of 3D. The problem is not so much that the technology is still in formation (Burton is a little out-gunned by the recent Avatar obviously, but this film has some fine 3D moments such as the smoke-disappearing caterpillar), it is more that it doesn’t seem indispensable. About half way through you feel like seeing it normally (when will we be able to get 3 D without the Buddy Holly specs?) and frankly the film would work just as well.

But let’s not cavil. It is easy to knock ambitious (and soon to be very popular) films. This is a wild visual romp; beautifully voiced and with a mostly-successful meld of animation and acting. When it is still showing on TV Christmas afternoons in twenty years time people will look back on it with equal fondness and admiration. For now, just go and see it.



In Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, we re-meet Alice (Mia Wasikowska), who is now 19 years old and is, according to Burton, ‘… at an age when you’re between a kid and an adult, when you’re crossing over as a person.’ And what a crossover period it is from the fantasy place of her childhood to ‘Underland,’ and like ‘Wonderland,’ it is a place where all is not what it seems to be. Only this time it is a little weirder and the characters are even larger than life.

We are introduced to a grown-up Alice who is still coming to terms with Victorian society. There is an awkward moment when she is being proposed to by Hamish (Leo Bill), who is super dull and not really her cup of tea, when she takes off after a White Rabbit wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch – as you would! She falls down a rabbit hole where she discovers a cake iced with the words ‘Eat Me’ and a bottle labelled, ‘Drink Me’. Alice has to work out how much to take to increase or decrease her size. Once she gets it right, her adventure begins in Underland.

Underland is full of characters who are slightly off-beat, whether they are the goodies or the baddies. Alice’s role is to sort out the sibling rivalry between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). She also encounters the wonderful twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas), who is even funnier as a double act. However, it is the wonderful reunion with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), which delivers the craziest moments on screen. In true Burton style, the set is utterly surreal. The tea party is presided over by the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), who has become even battier during the long wait for Alice’s return.

The costumes and voice-overs are perfect. At no time do you imagine that the story is not possible. A smoking Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee) and a grinning Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), just add to the visual fantasy that all seems somehow ‘normal’ when you are sitting in the dark with your glasses on. It is, after all, a tale of good versus evil and there are no prizes for guessing who wins.

Even though the film has a PG rating, mainly for the scary, fantasy images and a smoking caterpillar, it is an adventure for all ages. It is an imaginative version of a fairy-tale that scared the living daylights out of anyone who read it as a kid. The transition from ‘Wonderland’ to ‘Underland’ is beautifully acknowledged in the Knave of Heart’s line, when he looks at Alice who has increased in size and he says, “I love largeness”, which is delivered by this fabulous 3D experience.

moviereview colin fraser film movie australia review critic flicks