'Alice in Wonderland' a journey worth taking

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Depp in his element as Mad Hatter

By Eric Harris

"Alice in Wonderland," Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's latest collaboration, is equal parts strange and goofy. This is not a bad thing, I was just hoping for something a bit darker. The film is still enjoyable and it certainly held my interest.

This version of the classic story by Lewis Carroll is really a combination-reimagining of both "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." So you get the usual cast of characters (the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, the White Queen, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat), but with a more traditional, linear plot.

I am not a Lewis Carroll scholar or anything, but the books, from the skimming I did, came across as more of a random series of crazy events. To be honest, I was happy to see a linear plot added. I suppose a purist might have problems, though.

The linear story I mentioned above starts off simply enough. Young Alice has just awoken from a nightmare involving the above cast of characters.

Her father lets her know that even if she is a little crazy, it's OK (lesson to all little girls: it's okay to be yourself). Cut to 11 years later, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a young lady, expected to marry a lord and lead a very boring life. Instead, she chases after the White Rabbit and falls down the rabbit hole.

And this is, of course, where the story picks up a bit. Alice quickly learns that she is foretold to be a great champion who will slay the Jabberwocky with the vorpal sword and help bring peace back to Wonderland. She and the inhabitants of Wonderland, however, are not sure if she's the right Alice for the job.  

I've summarized the story enough. Suffice it to say that all of the expected encounters have a point behind them and they all lead up to the showdown between the Red Queen and the White Queen.

I enjoyed the story of the film, especially since it gave the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) a back story and a purpose. Still, though, do not expect this to be a Mad Hatter movie just because Depp's face is plastered all over the marketing. The Hatter is still a side character, though Depp's scenes were the most enjoyable in the film. You really can't go wrong when Depp is given free rein to crazy up the screen.

Depp is great and he is backed up by some other fun performances, both live action and voice. Helena Bonham Carter and Crispin Glover (as the Red Queen and Stayne, Knave of Hearts, respectively) work very well together.

Carter handles the famous "Off with their heads!" outbursts quite well and Glover is a creepy guy no matter what he does, so his presence alone made his character work.

Among the voice actors, I enjoyed Alan Rickman as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar and Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat the most. They both seemed to embody each character perfectly.

Since there are voice actors, that obviously means that a good portion of this film is done with computer-animated effects, and they are quite well done. The world created for the screen looks great.

I found myself just looking around the screen picking up the little details here and there (of course it was easy to pick up the smaller elements since I was watching it in IMAX). Wonderland might not be Pandora or anything, but it is still interesting enough to keep your eyes busy throughout the film.

Inevitably, "Alice in Wonderland" is going to be compared to "Avatar" since this is the first IMAX/3D release since that blockbuster came out. First off, the 3D is not as impressive as it was with "Avatar." This may be because "Alice" wasn't shot in 3D; it was converted to 3D later. This is becoming a common practice since "Avatar" started breaking records and I'm not sure I like it.

Don't get me wrong, the 3D is still impressive at times and it helps you feel like you're in Wonderland along with Alice. I just wish they would've have actually filmed it with 3D cameras instead of converting it later.

"Alice in Wonderland" still looks good, it just could have looked so much better. I enjoyed the story more than the visuals, if for no other reason than it was quite different than I expected it to be. It may have been a bit goofier than I would have liked (the Mad Hatter's little dance at the end was quite stupid), but it has some great moments as well (Alice's showdown with the Jabberwocky was my favorite).

The film makes for a decent family film. I don't think it's going to go down as a beloved classic or anything, but I certainly think "Alice in Wonderland" is worth checking out.

Eric Harris of Cannelton is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.