This paragraph will summarise the most important points: this film isn’t as visually spectacular as Avatar but the world it creates is just as or even more immersive and the 3D helps (surprisingly Alice was shot in 2D and retrofitted with 3D). To finish off, the story, dialogue and characterisation are better than Avatar’s albeit still formulaic. That’s it. Read on if you want.
19 year old Alice returns to the land of her previous adventure, minus a clear memory of what happened previously, her businessman father convincing her it was a dream. Soon she sees the white rabbit again. The inhabitants have called her back to save them from the Red Queen. She embarks on a journey to meet the White Queen and take on the Jabberwocky. Along the way, she meets the characters from her last visit.
The character has grown up a bit but is haunted by previous adventures she regards as a dream. Throughout this film she struggles between two mindsets: centring herself as THE Alice the kingdom requires as a hero and the second self regards everything as just the dream she’s had since childhood. This is linked to her take on the formulaic hero’s journey that so many stories have used. You’re never in doubt that she will pull through and gain an inner-strength that allows her to succeed.
People will watch because this is a child-friendly Tim Burton film. The design is typical Burton, a darker take on fantasy imagery, with creepy dark forests, strange castles and brutishness hanging just off screen. The imagery is familiar and clubbable with other kids fantasies. Talking about familiar the fantasy action struck me as similar to the Narnia films – no bad thing but it lacks the oomph of Avatar’s.
Australian actress Mia Wasikowska makes a good Alice. Her accent fine and she is sprightly but it is the secondary performances that are the highlights. Anne Hathaway’s White Queen is delightfully acted as a preening angel with a strange air about her. Her sister, the Red Queen as played by Helena Bonham Carter is great it has echoes of Miranda Richards from Black Adder. The Mad Hatter character as portrayed by Johnny Depp veers between an English and (a distracting) Scottish accent. His sections are in turn amusing and grating as his speechifying can be hit and miss. It is Stephen Fry who steals the show as the Cheshire Cat, his purring giving an intelligent and dark side to the cat.
This is a film I’d recommend for children, especially girls. Alice is a new woman with full self-possession and clad in armour, taking on her self-doubts and becoming quite independent. It is refreshing to see a film that doesn’t have a female pining over a male.
I have to say, I wasn’t all that gripped by it due to the formulaic story. The one point that did grab me was at the end where Alice stakes out a claim within her father’s business venture (Go girl!). She recommends that the trading house should expand into China and is hired as an apprentice (Go girl!!). Hang on a moment, this takes place after the Second Opium war (the Arrow War) where Britain and France invaded China to open up the country to their traders (opium being the most heinous of things forced upon the Chinese). Is this film stating that she will become a narco-entrepreneur?
Regardless, the film is enjoyable and the supporting performances are fun and it presents a female protagonist that one can take girls to see without feeling awkward over romance and the like. If you read this far, thanks.