First, though, let me make something clear -- I like Tim Burton very much. I know that we live in a society where children watch Saw and Pulp Fiction with wild abandon, but I think kids should watch kid's movies up until a certain age. I did not categorize this as "family" because I don't think should be considered that by a long shot. I remember at one time literally covering my mouth with my hand and considering the ludicrousness of the PG rating.
Well, it's not extreme from an above-thirteen year-old standpoint, but when the theaters tagged this PG I at least halfway expected to keep it clean, like Up. It was not. I think the scene where the Red Queen's slimy cohort aggressively comes onto Alice ought to sum it up. Plus the eyeball (which was a gasp on my part.) Come on, folks, do not make the foolish assumption I did -- this is Tim Burton. Do you really think he was going to go all "precious moments" on you?
Mia Wasikowska, who is a young actress I have seen only once before, plays Alice. She's the curious type stuck in a society full of bores. She is expected (in the classic tradition of the period piece) to marry Hamish (Leo Bill) -- Tim Burton not so subtlety makes it clear- she should not marry him. Hamish is, though not as bad as his cold Aristocrat mum, harsh, spoiled, and annoying, with bad teeth to top it off.
Alice's own mum forgets to mention Hamish will be proposing, a small detail that may have slipped her mind considering the circumstances. Hamish has failed to mention this as well. He proposes (I felt humiliated for Leo, having to make sure every viewer saw that smile on the big screen), and she, seeing limited escapes, runs for it. Hamish is still whining about his rejection while she chases a white rabbit and falls down a hole.
The hole takes her quickly out of her banal period-piece setting and into a room that seems far to sophisticated for a common forest animal. As soon as she gets out (using unusual food products I shouldn't have to go through) and steps onto real Burton land, the weirdos immediately pop up. It is difficult to tell, at first, which are harmless and which are out to get her, since most of them look equally freakish.
If I was her, I'd be exiting Johnny Depp's presence first. He is quite good as the Mad Hatter, but with disturbing make-up and a gap-toothed grin he seems to be trying to out do the grotesqueness of his gaunt Sweeney Todd. But this Depp has no razors, just a large hat that can teleport the wearer at will. He is, however, there to help, whereas the Red Queen (Bonham-Carter recreating the unpleasant and slightly psychotic manner of her Mrs. Lovett character) does not have pure intentions.
The fantasy world Burton creates is brilliant, though not of the same "reach-out-and-touch-it" quality as Avatar. With its pasty dark colors and bizarre animals, he doesn't seem to be going for the same realism that Cameron did. The royally strange features and dark hues give off the slight feeling of a surrealist painting on film.
Alice only seems moderately shocked by the change of climates, though she is puzzled by the Hatter's claim that it is her destiny to keep the place safe from the Red Queen, who has a grudge against her sister (Anne Hathaway). Much of the film is dedicated to Burton's creations: two morbidly obese, ball-shaped brothers, a dodo bird, and a contrary mouse who wields a sword like Desperaux with a edge.
Mia Wasikowska starts out mildly likable if stoic and distanced, looking perpetually wide-eyed at the situation around her. She warms up about halfway through and ends up a pretty convincing heroine. Bill has an amusing but terrifically one-note role, which seems to be all that Burton needs. The biggest disappointment is Anne Hathaway, who is usually vivid. Here she is so incredibly bland as to make me wish she was putting a Bonham-Carter dose of zest into the role.
In one scene, The Red Queen accuses the White Queen of "batting her eyes and getting all the love from Mummy and Daddy." The same could be said of Hathaway -- she blinks meaninglessly and delivers a couple of waifish lines -- that's about it. I was thinking how much she could have put into it. The Red Queen was sadistic, fittingly weird, and even sad, as if Helena was doing a lot -- The White Queen is simply shallow and dull.
Many the characters, especially the fantasy ones, were great to watch -- I couldn't help but like the completely self-serving, creepy-smiled cat with a hat complex, voiced by Stephen Fry -- he popped in and out, regarding others' crises smugly, and stole just about every scene he was in. I must admit I quite like talking dogs, if they are done right -- I never even recognized the usually-slimy Timothy Spall voicing a sad-eyed basset hound unwillingly associated with the Red Queen.
At times this movie wallows in its own weirdness and becomes willfully incoherent to a fault -- Johnny Depp's dance, while undeniably amusing, appears to have come out of left field as an inexplicable ending to a climactic battle scene. At its best (my favorite was the scene where Alice mutters the six impossible things before breakfast to herself while fighting the Jabberwocky), it is morbidly enchanting. Overall, it is unabashedly, unashamedly Burton. Which is great with me, but I think Disney has some explaining to do