The curious mind of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known under his pen name Lewis Carroll) is the cause for the creation of the marvelling world of Wonderland, a place where potions make you shrink, cake makes you grow, animals talk, cats disappear, and the impossible is achieved. Dodgson’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and later abbreviated to Alice in Wonderland) became an acclaimed work of fantasy exploring the themes of logic and mathematics, and is regarded as the best example of literary nonsense. The characters and places of the book were re-envisioned several times in film, television, and literature, but the most recent adaption of the story completed behind the interpretations of Tim Burton (Batman, Batman Returns, Corpse Bride) has become one of the most financially successful films to date and was the winner of the Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design, and therefore caught my attention for my next review. Alice in Wonderland asks this important questions, including: can a young woman defeat a dangerous beast? Can the impossible be accomplished if one believes enough? Is a raven like a writing desk? Watch this movie and you may just find the answers to them.

Six year-old Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska ) is troubled by her bizarre recurring dream about dodo birds and rabbits in waistcoats, and her father (Martin Csokas) comforts her, joking that she has gone mad, but reminding her all the best people are.

Thirteen years later, Alice is now a young woman still mourning the loss of her father and struggling to behave of the expectations of ‘normal’ women in the Victorian era. At a garden party held by Lord Ascot (Tim Piggott-Smith), she is proposed to by Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill), whom she has little interest in. Confused and unsure of herself, she runs off and stumbles upon a large rabbit hole after following what she thought was a rabbit dressed in a waistcoat (Michael Sheen).

She accidently falls in and finds herself in a room full of locked doors. There is a small key on the table which she uses to unlock a small door, but she is unable to fit through because she is too big. There is also a potion on the table entitled ‘Drink Me,’ which she does and shrinks to a much smaller size, now able to fit through the door. However, the key for the door is still on the table, and Alice cannot reach it. She finds a piece of cake beneath the table entitled ‘Eat Me,’ which she does and grows to a much larger size, now able to retrieve the key. However, she is now much too big to fit through the door. Fortunately, there is still some liquid left in the potion and she is able to shrink back down to the appropriate size to fit through the door.

Alice finds herself in a world referred to by its inhabitants as ‘Underland.’ She meets several odd characters shortly after arriving; Nivens McTwisp, the White Rabbit (whom she saw prior to her falling into the rabbit hole), Mallymkun, the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), Uilleam, the Dodo (Michael Grough), and tweedledee and tweedledum (Matt Lucas), otherwise unspecified plump twin boys. The group of characters argue over if Alice is ‘the right Alice,’ foretold to one day bring an end to the Iracebeth the Red Queen (Helen Bonham Carter)’s rein of Underland by sleighing the fearsome Jabberwocky (Sir Christopher Lee), a dragon-like beast. Unable to decide of her identity, the group take Alice to Absolem (Alan Rickman), the wise caterpillar, to determine the verdict, and tells them she is ‘not hardly’ Alice.

Suddenly, they are attacked by a ferocious creature called a Bandersnatch, aided by an army of playing-card soldiers and their leader, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover). Alice, with the help of the others, escapes and flees the area.

The Knave reports back to the Red Queen informing her that Alice has returned, threatening the queen’s power. She orders her army to find Alice immediately. Meanwhile, lost Alice encounters Chessur (Stephan Fry), a disappearing Cheshire cat. He takes her to Thackery Earwicket (Paul Whitehouse), the March Hare, and Tarrant Hightopp (Johnny Depp), the Mad Hatter, having a tea party with Mallymkun. The trio hide Alice from the soldiers searching for her, and then the Hatter promises to take Alice to the Mirana (Anne Hathaway, the White Queen and serene sister of the Red Queen. On their way, he explains to her that once the Red Queen had taken over Underland, there was death and despair, as opposed to the happy and peaceful land it once was. He also comments that Alice is not the same as she used to be, continuing to believe her experience is but a dream. When the soldiers return, the Hatter saves Alice and allows himself to be turned in.

Hiding under the Hatter’s top hat, Alice is found by Bayard (Timothy Spall), the bloodhound who unwillingly serves the Red Queen, but upon Alice’s return wishes to help her and take her to the White Queen, as was the Hatter’s plan. However, Alice is determined to rescue the Hatter first after saving her life.

They arrive at the Red Queen’s castle and Bayard helps her break in. She meets the White Rabbit again who gives her more cake to bring her back to her natural size, but she ingests too much and grows double the size of a regular person. The Red Queen finds her and is impressed by her remarkable height and clothes her and welcomes her as a guest, believing she is not Alice but a foreign girl called ‘Um.’ Alice soon discovers that not only the Hatter but almost all of her friends in Underland have been taken captive by the Red Queen. She also learns of the Vorpal Sword; the only weapon capable of defeating the Jabberwocky, locked away guarded by the Bandersnatch. She breaks in to where the beast is held and offers it its missing eye that was taken by Mallymkun during their previous encounter with the Bandersnatch. The beast accepts it and befriends Alice, allowing her to take the key around its neck that unlocks the chest to the Vorpal Sword. The Knave finds her with it and attempts to arrest her, but she escapes with the help of the Bandersnatch. *Continue reading to see the second half of the plot.*

 They arrive at the White Queen’s castle and Alice delivers the sword to her, who restores Alice to her proper size once again. Meanwhile, after helping Alice escape once again, the Hatter is sentenced to an execution; ‘off with his head,’ along with the others who ‘conspired’ with her. But with the help of Chessur, they manage to escape and turn the Red Queen’s people on themselves, and calls for a rebellion with the prisoners. The resistance returns to the White Queen’s castle to prepare for battle.

The White Queen declares they are nearly ready for battle, but they still have yet to find the ‘Champion,’ to which Alice is unsure about accepting to. She meets with Absolum, who is in the midst of his transformation to become a butterfly.  He reminds her of her previous experience in Wonderland when she was very little, she mistakenly calling Underland ‘Wonderland.’ She remembers and understands it was not a dream at all, and neither is this. He gives her courage to fight the Jabberwocky and tells her she acting like she could be ‘almost Alice’ and is then engulfed by his cocoon.  

Alice accepts the role as Champion and when the Frabjous day arrives, both the Red Queen’s army and the White Queen’s army gather on a battlefield resembling a chess board. The Champions from each side are chosen for battle; Alice from the White Queen’s side, and the Jabberwocky from the Red Queen’s. Alice recalls her father’s practice of counting up to six impossible things before breakfast. She decides to do the same to maintain her bravery as she engages in battle with the Jabberwocky: “One, there’s a potion that can make you shrink. Two, a cake that can make you grow. Three, animals can talk. Four, cats can disappear. Five, there’s a place called Wonderland. Six, I can sleigh the Jaborwocky.”

When the rule of interference is broken during the combat, the Red Queen declares battle and the two sides engage in war for some time. The Hatter’s dark side is revealed as he is about to take the life of the Knave, but just before Alice beheads the Jabberwocky, fulfilling the prophecy. The soldiers of both sides of the war seize to fight anymore, for they now loyally serve the White Queen, who sentences both the Red Queen and the Knave, who attempts to kill his highness before being captivated, to a banishment in the Outlands, where they will be treated with no love.

The Hatter is finally given the chance to perform his victory dance, much to the appeal of the others. The White Queen offers Alice a vial of Jabberwocky blood which will take her home. The Hatter confronts Alice, suggesting that she could stay. She decides that despite how much she would like to, she must go back, but promises to return, in spite of the Hatter’s warning that she won’t remember him.

Alice returns home to the garden party where little time has passed. She stands up to her family and close ones who always expect too much of her, and explains to Hamish that she is not right for him. Lord Ascot is impressed by her behaviour and takes Alice as his apprentice. The contemplate on the idea of establishing ocean trade routes to China. As Alice prepares for her voyage and loads onto the trading ship, she sees a blue butterfly that lands on her shoulder. Alice greets it as Absolem.

The film stars Mia Wasikowska as Alice, Johnny Depp as the Hatter, Helen Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. It acts as a sequel to Alice in Wonderland (and Through the Looking Glass) rather than a remake. This comes as a pleasant surprise. The premise of the story (a much older Alice now only regarding her experience in Wonderland as a dream and struggling to be ‘proper’ until she returns to Wonderland to find that it is in ruins and that only she can restore balance) is intriguing and by the end of the film, works. Even if one is unfamiliar with the previous story events, they are not necessary for this sequel anyhow (much like 2010’s Tron: Legacy starring Jeff Bridges and Garrett Hedlund). The plot itself is well-paced yet consistently keeps you interested and questioning as to what is going to happen next. It struggled slightly with originality, but still was new and fresh for Lewis Carroll’s very well known ‘Wonderland universe.’

The visual effects of Alice in Wonderland are obviously its strongest points. It’s full of beautiful scenery, dazzling creatures, and brilliant imagination. Visual-wise, it’s right up there with Avatar. It is very fun and appealing to watch; pure eye candy.

This is a weird movie. Despite its genre listings including ‘family,’ I’ll bet a fair amount of families will not enjoy this movie, at least not completely. The violence isn’t excessive, but a couple scenes in particular are surprisingly gory (as far as children’s film standards go). This really leads into the dark themes that Burton likes to explore in his films. The characters and plotline are far from the norm of family movies too. The Mad Hatter is said by Burton to be an allusion to those who suffered from mercury poisoning. He’s simply crazy, and he’s not the only one. The Red Queen is not only insane but spontaneously horrific and may frighten children at times. Her assistant the Knave shares these qualities, making them a quirky yet appalling duo of villains. As for Anne Hathaway, I felt like she just didn’t give her best performance. Then again, her very strange attitude as the ”Cute but psycho” queen may have been exactly what Burton was going for. There are also some pros to the characters. Yes, the Hatter is simply crazy, but he’s not all crazy. During the course of the film we begin to see a real human element within him, and he can become very emotional and very determined to make things right, like they once were. This helps us connect with him and the other Wonderland inhabitants a little better, instead of a presumed alienated feeling one would expect with such an assortment of characters. But it’s Alice herself that I was really happy with. Mia Wasikowska delivers a top-notch performance as Alice, a girl with restrained ambitions, and ultimately, the Champion of Underland. She sets an excellent example for a strong female role in current film and is surely to be very inspirational. She endures generally good character development and proves that even ‘improper’ Victorian teenage girls can make a difference, and even save an entire world from devastation (although hopefully her mildly rebellious attitude and the scene in which Alice confronts her family and close ones and chooses not to listen to them and ‘talks back’ won’t go too far in the influences of kids minds). Alice has quickly become one of my favourite heroines in popular culture. In the end, I can’t decide whether all families will appreciate this diverse assortment of unlikely characters and odd plotlines, but I know I sure did.

This wasn’t the best film of the 2010 year. The writing is clever and fun at sometimes but clumsy and awkward at other times. But after seeing it for the third time, I find less and less to complain about. A definate plus about the writing, though, is the community and relationships shared between the characters. It builds from the occurances in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that Alice would meet a character only friefly, and then not come across them again. Instead, this film explores the idea that they are all apart of one family. Being released in the same year as other extremely successful new instalments of fantasy film franchises like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Teader, I can still say without a doubt that Alice in Wonderland was my favourite fantasy film of 2010. (And by the way, I haven’t the slightest idea as to why a raven is like a writing desk.)