Viewed – 23 December 2010 Blu-ray
I used to be a huge Tim Burton fan back when he made the likes of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. I loved his gothic style and imagination. Combine this with his frequent collaboration with composer Danny Elfman, most notably on the Batman movies, and this movie-fan was in constant awe. In recent years however I haven’t really kept up with his movies. The last one I watched was Sweeney Todd, which left me cold, and I haven’t as of yet seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I was a little hesitant with this movie, as the major media interest seemed to focus on Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, and if you know the timeless story from Lewis Carol, you’ll recall that The Hatter is only a side character and not the focus. Burton’s reliance on casting Depp had hit something of a media backlash also, and some said his performance was just the same as his Willy Wonka or Jack Sparrow – all camp and little substance. Didn’t exactly get me rushing to the cinema.
Yet now having watched the movie, I feel shocked at my ignorance and snobbery over it, and feel the movie, telling the story of Alice (newcomer Mia Wasikowska) as she returns to Wonderland as a 19-year-old on the verge of accepting a proposal of marriage, is every bit the big budget, effects laden extravaganza it promised to be, firmly placing the movies of Tim Burton back in my heart where they belong. Alice, having previously visited the enchanted world of ‘underland’ as a child, returns to find the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) ruling, and a madcap bunch of characters (Hatter, The March Hair, The Church Mouse and The White Rabbit) awaiting her return to fulfill a prophecy where she slays the Queen’s guardian dragon, the Jabberwocky and returns the dethroned White Queen (Ann Hathaway) to power.
A bold, breathtaking vision of a movie with Burton’s artistic stylings in full force, this is a treat for the eyes and looks absolutely brilliant on Blu-ray. Mia Wasikowska is perfect as a more gutsy but no less inquisitive Alice, brilliantly supported by Johnny Depp’s Hatter who thankfully doesn’t steal the show and makes for a semi-tragic side-kick. Helena Bonham Carter, quickly becoming a staple of Burton’s universe alongside Depp, is surprisingly brilliant as the Red Queen and perfectly captures the crazy / sinister persona. Also Matt Lucas is wonderful as Tweedledum and Tweedledee and voice work from the likes of Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor and Paul Whitehouse all impress.
Throughout this feels true to the source material, and remains an exciting, enjoyable ride that never out stays its welcome (for a big budget adaptation, it clocks in at a leisurely hour and forty minutes). It may be offering little new to what has gone before, and feels quite old-fashioned, but for me, that was much of its charm. I felt like a child again, where a movie opened my eyes with wonder and pulled me into its world. Add to this rousing orchestral support from Danny Elfman again, and in my opinion, this deserves to become a family favourite for years to come.
Verdict: 4 /5