Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton and released in early 2010, is a fanciful and delightful adaptation of the classic tale by Lewis Carroll. Although it might be tempting to simply say that the film succeeds on the basis of its dazzling special effects (which are truly exemplary,) it actually manages to create a cohesive narrative and characters that the audience can truly relate to.
Of course, being Tim Burton, the film takes a walk on the dark side, casting the usually whimsical world of Wonderland in shades of darkness. This includes renaming this magical world “Underland,” which heightens the sense of gloom that seems to pervade the movie. All of that gloom, however, also serves to make the computer generated characters (which is to say, almost all of them,) that much more dazzling and beautiful to look at.
It is precisely these characters, however, that truly give the film its bite and give the viewer a chance to get deep into the film. From Alice (ably portrayed by newcomer Mia Wasikowska,) to the Mad Hatter (portrayed by the indomitable Johnny Depp,) the actors truly know how to inhabit their characters and make them into something truly special. Although these actors dominate most of the screen time, their performances are ably supported by the rest of the cast, which includes such big names as Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry. All in all, the cast meshes well together.
Standing head and shoulders above the rest, however, is the powerful force of Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen (an amalgam of the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen from the Carroll source material.) Bringing out the same force of character that has marked most of her other performance (such as Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter films,) Carter manages to overshadow almost everyone else in the film, with her outbursts of temper and her (literally) swollen head.
However, despite the fact that the Red Queen is without a doubt a terrible creature (she has a frog servant puts to death and says that she will enjoy eating his tadpole children on toast,) you cannot help but feel a little sorry for. One of Burton’s greatest accomplishments in this film is to paint the Red Queen as something more than just the blustering monster seen in the earlier Disney manifestation (which was nevertheless a great depiction.) Indeed, even though the Red Queen is responsible for the death of her husband, her reason, that she feared his leaving her, reads as surprisingly poignant and pathetic. Although she is cruel and tyrannical, Burton lets us see the frightened and needy little girl beneath the overgrown head and vicious temper.
All in all, Alice in Wonderland manages to meet and exceed all of the expectations it sets up, which could explain why it has done so well in theaters. The combination of the dazzling visuals, along with the rather vague references to The Wizard of Oz (typified by the ending scene, in which the Mad Hatter, in a parody of the Scarecrow, tells Alice she can stay,) and the other elements discussed above, make this a film sure to be treasured.