The StoryBased on the characters created 150 years ago by Lewis Carroll, Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton move the story forward to a 19 year old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) on the verge of womanhood. Her mother, who we never get to know, has arranged for her marriage to a milquetoast wimp of a man. The son of a lord who used to do business with Alice's father, this dull young man has no imagination and so when Alice begins speculating on all sorts of interesting, fanciful topics, he's not only unimpressed but also taken aback. Still, his family's determined the marriage go forward and lacking any free will - or a personality - he asks for her hand in front of a gathering of hundreds of their family members and friends.
Alice thinks she's somehow fallen asleep and this is all a dream, and so she's willing to just abandon herself to whatever's happening. That means that when rabbits, mice and even the roses start asking her if she's 'the' Alice, she doesn't freak out that animals and plants are questioning her, but instead takes offense to the fact she's being accused of being the wrong Alice. She doesn't remember these creatures nor ever having visited Underland before, yet they seem to believe she's the Alice who's meant to save Underland and slay the Jabberwocky. But the hookah-smoking blue caterpillar tells her she's not nearly Alice and sends her off to The Mad Hatter.
Meanwhile, The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has made Underland a terrifying place to live. Her twice the normal size head must house a less than normal size brain, as she's a little slow on the uptake and very quick to anger. The flip side of the coin is The White Queen (Anne Hathaway), a ethereal creature who is loved by all. The White Queen floats like a butterfly, and may have the ability to sting like a bee - but it's well hidden beneath virginal attire and a Mona Lisa smile.
The CastUnder a layer of some of the most creepy makeup ever - makeup that makes it hard to actually focus on him for too long - Johnny Depp is enthralling as a hatter who's completely lost his mind. Depp's high energy, completely bonkers performance is worth the price of an Alice ticket. Helena Bonham Carter is all pouty and positively perfect as the big-headed petulant queen whose favorite refrain is "Off with his/her head!" As The Red Queen's right-hand man, the Knave of Hearts, Crispin Glover is peculiar and menacing at the same time. And Anne Hathaway looks angelic, but her White Queen has a dark side that's hidden barely beneath the surface. I'm not sure why she does this weird thing with her fingers every time she's on screen - it's both fascinating and distracting - but Hathaway is just right as the yin to Bonham Carter's yang.
Burton also brought together an impressive voice cast which includes Sheen as the White Rabbit, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Sir Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Timothy Spall as Bayard the bloodhound, Paul Whitehouse as the March Hare, and Barbara Windsor as the feisty Dormouse. All the voice actors do a first-rate job, in particular Fry as the scene-stealing, disappearing cat with the famous grin.
The Bottom LineAs with Avatar, there's so much going on in the background of Alice, with so many little details flying by too quickly, trying to take it all in in one sitting is almost an impossible task. This is one DVD I'll be wearing out the pause button over, just to get a better look at the lustrous undergrowth of Underland.
It's not just the Red Queen's costumes and choice of decor that show off how much heart was poured into this Alice. But, this is a very different Alice than we're used to seeing portrayed on the screen, and one you're either going to absolutely loathe or fully embrace. But if you're willing to accept this new story involving old familiar characters, Alice in Wonderland will take you on a fantastic adventure down the rabbit hole and into a spectacular, mind-blowing new world.