March 10 2010 12:00 AM

Director Tim Burton adds his own flavor to a visually stunning revamp


Even though the title of "Alice in Wonderland" is the same as previous movie versions, director Tim Burton takes us down the rabbit hole with an older Alice — now 19 — who doesn’t remember her first trip to Wonderland.

And what a trippy trip it is, in 3D no less. All the beloved characters from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic books, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” populate to the film: The Mad Hatter, played by a gleeful Johnny Depp, with a Scottish accent and kabuki makeup; the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen, who portrayed Tony Blair in “The Queen”); the disappearing Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry); the hookah-smoking blue caterpillar (voiced by the laconic Alan Rickman); and the bickering twins, Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas).

But the spot-on portrayal of Iracebeth, the Red Queen, by Helena Bonham Carter is the one worth the ticket price. Her head is oversized (as is her ego), evoking Bette Davis’ Queen Elizabeth 1, but resting on a normal-sized body. She is cruel, selfish and demanding, but when she screeches “off with their heads,” her insecurity and childlike petulance comes through. Bonham Carter may be Burton’s partner and mother of his children but no one could be better as the Red Queen.

The premise of the film is that Alice has returned to Underland (the proper name of Wonderland) to fight the Jabberwocky (voiced by the great Christopher Lee) on Flabjous Day. This dragon-like beast from “Through the Looking Glass” is the Red Queen’s sole reason for being in power.

If Alice can defeat the menace, then the kingdom and its subjects who are subjected to torture and the whims of the queen can return to the beneficent rule of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the banished good sister. Overcoming her resistance to violence, Alice becomes Joan of Arc, suited in armor and wielding a sword. This third of the film reminds one of a video game, and cheapens what came before.

It is the first two-thirds of the film, filled with mind-bending imagery and a startling visual landscape that deserves to be seen.

"Alice in Wonderland"

Now playing in IMAX 3-D at Celebration! Lansing; also playing at NCG
Eastwood Cinemas, Goodrich Lansing Mall 6, AMC Meridian Mall 6 and
Eaton Theatre

Four — out of five