Up to date information about children's entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Alice in Wonderland

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to screen the new Tim Burton / Disney version of Alice which opens today. It entirely off the wall, as one might expect, but not nearly as dark as I thought it would be. This is a film that will absolutely be enjoyed by filmophiles, particularly Burton fans. But, you might want to take your child’s temperament into consideration before hauling them over to your local Cineplex.

The visual element of this film is stunning. Burton’s characters are awesome, he takes off in an entirely new direction with our favorites. Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp is as charming as ever. Mia Wasikowska deftly plays an older Alice who is returning for a 2nd visit to Underland. She is beautiful, pale skinned and brave in a cautious kind of way. How she manages to deal with all the size changes she undergoes is another question altogether.

I particularly loved the evil Red Queen played by Helena Bonham Carter whose chilly demeanor would stop most of us in our tracks. Her oversized head leaves room for comment but it is her mouth, with its pursed lips and heart shaped lipstick that is reallyl cool. And then, there’s the way she solves every disappointment by shouting, “Off with their head!” My my. Anne Hathaway’s White Queen isn’t quite as charming as I would have liked but the Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat and White Rabbit were right on par. Tweedledee and Tweedledum as as cute as twin Pillsbury Doughboys and goofy in the same way they speak in rhyme and finish one another’s sentences. Of course, Depp steals the day with his Mad Hatter portrayal. He somehow makes us delight in the zany antics of the MH including the famous Tea Party which borders on absolute lunacy.

The storyline blends two of Lewis Carrol’s books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, both of which captured my imagination when I was young, and rediscovered again as a young adult when we went back to examine the strangeness of the hookah smoking caterpillar and the size-changing mysteries of Alice.

When Alice is faced with a surprise engagement announcement to the perfectly boring Lord Hamish Ascot, it seems only natural for those of us from a non-Victorian culture that instead, she dashes, follows a waist-coated rabbit and drops down the rabbit hole to revisit “Underland.” She has been there before but only remembers it in her dreams. Upon arriving, everyone greets her cordially, as a returning guest and point out to her the premonition that Alice will save Wonderland by slaying the Jaberwocky. There is only one question, no one is certain that she is the right “Alice.” Alice claims this is her dream and she can make of it as she wishes. 

This film shows off Burton’s mastery as a visual artist. It’s a treat to look at. You surely won’t be disappointed in that. As to the 3D aspect, it adds little to the production and apparently was added in post production. So, don’t stress if you can’t see it in 3D, it seems that 2D will be as appealing, and perhaps even more so. The storyline is perhaps a bit weak. The final act, after Alice succeeds in slaying the Jaberwocky, is a quick spirited feminist recap Alice tells off the hosts and guests at her engagement party – and struts off to pursue a life of her own making.

I’m a huge Tim Burton fan, just saw the retrospective exhibit at MOMA in New York which includes drawings he made as a teenager. Tim has always exhibited an interest in the bizarre and oftentimes, the dark side of things. This new Alice has drawn mixed reviews from the critics. Unless you don’t like creativity, disregard all those panning this film, and check it out for yourself. It’s not as twisted as I thought it would be but I definitely would not take a child under the age of 6. I’m plan to see it again and will take my two grandsons, ages 8 and 14. I have heard great things about the videogames based on the show.

Last, here’s a fun thing: The Lobby Lounge at Mandarin Oriental, New York is serving a delectable Mad Hatter Tea from 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm daily beginning March 1 until April 30, 2010.

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