Thursday, July 22, 2010

Movie Reviews: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

You have a very important date.

Directed by: Tim Burton

Written by: Linda Woolverton (screenplay); Lewis Carroll (books)

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman

In this latest collaboration between director Tim Burton, his muse Johnny Depp, and his wife Helena Bonham Carter, Alice is now a 19-year old woman who stumbles back into Wonderland and is thrust into a war between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

There are many things about this latest Tim Burton film that are brilliant. The film is truly a visual feast, sumptuous to the eyes, and had it been released ten years ago it would have been hailed as a masterpiece.

But visual effects are no longer enough to sustain a film for audiences already exposed to films like "The Lord of the Rings" and "Avatar," and the movie sadly falls short in other key elements. The script does provide a much-need plot and structure absent from Lewis Carroll's original "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" stories, which were part of a genre called literary nonsense in which characters traipsed from adventure to adventure without rhyme or reason. But while the plot -- the conflict between the White Queen deposed by her sister, the Red Queen -- is engaging, it is nevertheless overly long and sags a bit. Johnny Depp, a perennial favorite among Cosmo voters, doesn't bring enough "newness" to the role of the Mad Hatter to sufficiently distinguish it from many of his other wacky roles. Anne Hathaway, an actress we've adored in "Ella Enchanted" and "Brokeback Mountain," is delightful as the White Queen, but her deliberately overly-theatrical mannerisms eventually become a little annoying.

The other actors are all fine (Alan Rickman's voice could seduce me simply reading the phone book), but two stood out for me. The first is Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat. Oh, sure, I've always had a fondness for that character, but there was something indescribable about Fry's portrayal that was so delightful. (And it's not because I love Fry, which I do; I didn't recognize his voice and had to look up the credits on IMDB afterwards.) And the second, and most important, was Helena Bonham Carter, who was spot-on brilliant as the Red Queen. She will certainly make my list for Best Villain of 2010, and quite possibly make my list for other acting categories as well.

My grade: B

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