by Rick Grant
Welcome to Lewis Carroll’s classic psychedelic trip into the magic rabbit hole interpreted by director Tim Burton’s magical mystery land of fanciful splendor. In this adaptation, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has returned to the rabbit hole world as a young woman, who was about to be betrothed to a dull loser, Hamish, son of Lord and Lady Ascot
“Give me a minute,” she says as she chases the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole and ends up in a strange and mysterious land of a floating Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and meets the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) puffing on weed (drug references abound) and making clouds of smoke. His philosophy of transition rather than death teaches Alice the zen of the Caterpillar’s wisdom. Later he appears as a butterfly.
Although Burton used the original dialogue much of the time, he created new imagery to manipulate animated characters with actors performing against blue screen. The story pits the evil but comedic Red Queen (Helena Botham Carter) against her sister, the pure White Queen (Anne Hathaway) in a struggle of good versus evil.
However, with Johnny Depp’s out-there interpretation of the Mad Hatter, his bumbling weirdness is delightfully appealing and funny as is Helena Carter’s portrayal of the Red Queen’s nutty demands.
“I love a warm pig to rest my feet,” she said as the piggy scurries under her feet. She called the bulbous Tweedledee and Tweedledum her “fat boys.” Yes, the Red queen’s oversize head and ridiculous makeup make her the court jester queen. She uses a flamingo as a 9 iron and chipped a hedge hog down the garden.
When the very tall Alice meets the red queen, she adopts her as her latest court freak. But Alice has a plan to return to the White Queen. Meanwhile, the kingdom is all a-buzz about the return of Alice.
The March Hare wonders if this is the real Alice from before or an imposter. But Alice says it’s her dream and she will make the decisions. The life lesson is: Alice is taking control of her own life and not being influenced by others.
Alice realizes that she is not stuck in this alternate reality, but she has a mission to complete before she returns to the real world. In this adult tale of imaginative fantasy, Carroll explored the altered states of consciousness from consuming psychedelic mushrooms featured in the alternate forest.
For children who know nothing of the drug reference, Alice enters a dreamscape of wondrous delight, in which she is in charge, and makes things happen by her will. For Alice, it’s about her learning how to be independent and pursue her ambitions.
Depp’s Mad Hatter steals his scenes with a new version of the tea party and his hat becomes a miraculous method of transportation for Alice, who makes it to the White Queen’s kingdom.
In this fantasy world, Alice delights in the new creatures she sees. The talking bloodhound plays a role in her emancipation. But her mission is to defeat the Jabberwocky flying dragon with the sacred sword, to bring order and peace into the kingdoms of the two opposing queen sisters. It’s a true test of her independent spirit.
Burton’s collaboration with Helena Carter and Johnny Depp once again creates an extraordinary fantasy film with real actors and animated characters. The Mad Hatter’s cool jig is a special delight at the end.
Back at the estate, Alice does the jig in front of the uptight aristocrats gathered to see Hamish propose to her. After coming back from the alternate universe of the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat, Alice has no intention of marrying this creep. She’s off doing the Mad Hatter’s jig of freedom and adventure. The story sends a strong message to little girls to seek independence from conventional wisdom.