February 26, 2010 / 4:39 AM / in 9 years

Burton's "Alice" update a wonder to behold

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Tim Burton’s trademark winsomely outlandish style doesn’t prepare you for the thoroughly enjoyable spectacle that is his “Alice in Wonderland.” A fantastical romp that proves every bit as transporting as that movie about the blue people of Pandora, his “Alice” is more than just a gorgeous 3D sight to behold.

Armed with a smartly reshaped but still reverential script by Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”), Burton has delivered a subversively witty, brilliantly cast, whimsically appointed dazzler that also manages to hit all the emotionally satisfying marks.

Disney won’t have to consume any little cakes in glass boxes in order for the resulting worldwide box office to reach colossal heights and Oscar shortlists after the film opens March 5.

No longer a wide-eyed child, Alice Kingsleigh (a pitch-perfect Mia Wasikowska) is now an easily distracted 19-year-old who seems hopelessly out of sync with her muted Victorian surroundings. Dodging a garden-party marriage proposal from the dorky son of a lord and lady, Alice instead opts to take off after a pocket watch-clutching rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), giving those 3D glasses their first major workout as she plunges deeper and deeper into Underland.

Although she doesn’t realize it, Alice has been down this particular rabbit hole before, when she was a much younger, more spirited girl. But before she’s able to get back in touch with her “muchness,” she’ll bond with a mercury-poisoned Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp in a another blissfully out-there tragicomic performance) and butt heads with the tyrannical Iracebeth (a never-better Helena Bonham Carter, who is an absolute scream of a Red Queen).

Whether they were required to spend quality time in front of a greenscreen or were totally CGI creations, all the usual suspects, from the rotund Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas times two) to the disembodied Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) to the fearsome Jabberwocky (the great Christopher Lee), are present and brilliantly accounted for in collaboration with special effects master Ken Ralston.

Although Lewis Carroll purists might pooh-pooh some of the script’s more radical alterations, like bringing Alice up to legal age, the shift helps hit home the film’s welcome message of female empowerment.

Ultimately, it’s the visual landscape that makes Alice’s newest adventure so wondrous, as technology has finally been able to catch up with Burton’s endlessly fertile imagination. Also taking their cues from John Tenniel’s original illustrations, Robert Stromberg’s fanciful production design and costume designer Colleen Atwood’s ever-inspired wardrobe selection help make it quite the trip.

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