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Alice in Wonderland Blu-ray & DVD Review

Alice in Wonderland (2010) movie poster Alice in Wonderland

Theatrical Release: March 5, 2010 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Tim Burton / Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (books)

Cast: Johnny Depp (Tarrant Hightopp the Mad Hatter), Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Helena Bonham Carter (Iracebeth the Red Queen), Anne Hathaway (Mirana the White Queen), Crispin Glover (Ilosovic Stayne - Knave of Hearts), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee, Tweedledum), Frances De La Tour (Aunt Imogene), Lindsay Duncan (Helen Kingsleigh), Geraldine James (Lady Ascot), Tim Pigott-Smith (Lord Ascot), Marton Csokas (Charles Kingsleigh), Leo Bill (Hamish Ascot) / Voice Cast: Alan Rickman (Absolem the Blue Caterpillar), Stephen Fry (Chessur the Cheshire Cat), Michael Sheen (Nivens McTwisp the White Rabbit), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound), Barbara Windsor (Mallymkun the Dormouse), Christopher Lee (Jabberwocky), Michael Gough (Uilleam the Dodo Bird), Jim Carter (Executioner), Imelda Staunton (Tall Flower Faces), Paul Whitehouse (Thackery Earwicket the March Hare)

Buy Disney's Alice in Wonderland (2010) from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy • 1-Disc DVD • 1-Disc Blu-ray • Exclusive Blu-ray Combo with Framed Film Cells


By Kelvin Cedeno

Disney certainly must be pleased with themselves. The 2010 live-action/CGI hybrid Alice in Wonderland has become their second all-time highest-grossing film worldwide after Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Of course, this achievement takes neither inflation nor increased 3-D ticket prices into account, but it's still mighty impressive, regardless.
Was it the collaboration of director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp that inspired the film's earnings? The timing of being the first 3-D film released after box office juggernaut Avatar? Or perhaps it was the opportunity to see such a beloved classic rendered with new technology? The answer is more than likely all of these combined.

When taken separately, each notion doesn't quite hold up. Depp and Burton have partnered together six times before Alice. While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a smash hit, the more recent Sweeney Todd wasn't nearly as successful. As for riding on the heels of Avatar, that may have contributed to a strong opening weekend, but less likely to the film's long legs. The popularity of Lewis Carroll's novels no doubt helped, but Universal's 2003 Peter Pan adaptation proved that audiences don't turn out to see every classic childhood tale given lavish treatment. As with other blockbuster hits, Alice seems to have enjoyed these distinct elements falling into place at the right time.

Nineteen-year-old Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska), the 2010 take on Lewis Carroll's protagonist, peers down the famed rabbit hole near the beginning of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland."

Despite being called Alice in Wonderland, this is not an adaptation of Carroll's book (or the sequel that often gets spliced into it). The best way to describe this film would be to compare it to Steven Spielberg's Hook. Like that picture, this one has a lead character returning to the world of fantasy years later as an adult, not remembering any of the previous adventures.

Alice sets up its heroine's conflict as 19-year old Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is still coping with the death of her father Charles (Marton Csokas). His company has been sold off to the Ascot family, whose son Hamish (Leo Bill) is infatuated with Alice.
Film Clip: "First glimpse of Wonderland":
An unpleasant engagement party is held in anticipation, and Alice is pressured by those around her into accepting. Before she gives an answer, however, a waistcoated White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) carrying a pocket watch grabs her attention. She takes the opportunity to chase him and falls down a steep hole into the world of Underland.

Despite having visited there thirteen years earlier (then mistakenly calling it Wonderland), Alice recognizes no thing nor resident around her. Likewise, the Underland residents aren't quite sure if she's the little girl they remember. Confirming her identity is vital as it's been foretold that on Frabjous Day, Alice would return and slay the fearsome beast known as the Jabberwocky. In doing so, the tyranny of Iracebeth the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) will end, and the reign of her sister, Mirana the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), will resume. Alice is aided by several companions, most notably bipolar Tarrant the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). Still not convinced she is who they're looking for, Alice is fueled to take charge when Tarrant is captured by the Red Queen's soldiers. Now she's torn between her own anxieties and her devotion to her new friends.

It's no figure of speech to say that Iracebeth (Helena Bonham Carter) the tyrannical Red Queen has a very big head. As the White Queen Mirana, Anne Hathaway's performance is defined largely by hand poses.

As an avid fan of Lewis Carroll's brilliant works of nonsense, saying that I was looking forward to Tim Burton's take on the material would be an understatement. Burton is one of the few directors working today who isn't afraid of being too peculiar or surreal. The idea of him directing an Alice film has been a dream of mine for nearly a decade. I followed the progress of this feature very closely, from its spring 2007 announcement all the way through the March 2010 release.
Exposing oneself to so much news and publicity can be dangerous as a person can wind up creating a film in his head that's grander and more complex than any final product could be. Even with that in mind, I must profess that Burton's Alice was a bit of a disappointment to me.

Burton is not actually to blame here. The fault really lies with Linda Woolverton's screenplay. The idea of doing a sequel to Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass books with the heroine in adulthood is a gutsy one. The general "hero's journey" plot, while overdone, still lends itself to an interesting framework. Unfortunately, Woolverton can't seem to overcome the clichιs of that genre. She ends up pigeonholing Wonderland's (er, Underland's) nutty residents into fantasy archetypes. Absolem the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) is the wise sage. Tarrant the Mad Hatter is the leader of the resistance (though less so here than in Woolverton's first draft). Mallymkun the Dormouse (Barbara Windsor) has been turned into a female version of Reepicheep. In fact, the whole production has a Narnia-lite feel to it. Considering Carroll's characters have been known for their uniqueness, downgrading them to clichιs seems wrong. Alice in Narnia just feels like a strange blend.

Confusing matters is how this relates to the timelines of the original stories, a befuddling issue also raised by Syfy's recent "Alice" miniseries. In the novels, Alice visits two separate worlds: Wonderland and Looking Glass Land. Each dream has its own distinct set of characters and locales. In Woolverton's script, however, environments from both worlds are scrambled together, and characters (most notably the Queen of Hearts and Red Queen) combined. That makes it a bit hard to swallow as the third entry in a supposed Alice trilogy. It also doesn't quite make sense how Alice fails to remember any of this. It's established early on that her Wonderland (and Looking Glass?) visits have haunted her regularly for years. One would think experiencing the same dream multiple times would render its elements as at least faintly memorable. Her big epiphany of having visited this place before seems to come rather suddenly and without much reason.

A character with "Mad" in his name gives Tim Burton and Johnny Depp license to go far out. As with their Willy Wonka, they seek to somewhat explain Tarrant Hightopp's eccentricities. An armored Alice (Mia Wasikowska) must be brave and slay the dragon-like Jabberwocky as prophesized.

With such script deficiencies, it may sound like Alice in Wonderland is a clunker of a film. It actually isn't, and that is due to Tim Burton and the crew he's assembled. Burton's vision of Underland is truly stunning and doesn't disappoint. The visuals manage to evoke John Tenniel's original illustrations, which have become synonymous with Carroll's text, while still offering something new to marvel at. It's rich and colorful without being either too sugary or too twisted.

Much has been made of the extensive use of green screen effects, and it's a relief to find that this doesn't resemble a video game. Save for Avatar, no other CG environment has been so fully realized and believable. It's very easy to forget that this world has been created digitally, as it consistently maintains a photorealistic look even with all of its stylization. Other digital effects, such as the animals or the Red Queen's enlarged head, also impress. The only one that doesn't completely work is placing Matt Lucas' face upon the heads of CG Tweedles Dee and Dum. It's a fascinating idea and seems fine for the most part, but the rendering of the bodies has a bit of a digital sheen that isn't as noticeable in other characters and places. Still, the film offers pure eye candy and is perhaps the first production to make this world feel like more than a series of set pieces.

The diverse inhabitants of Burton's Underland/Wonderland include dodo bird Uilleam, dormouse Mallymkun, roly poly twins Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the White Rabbit, and tall flowers with faces.

The performers also manage to do well with the material given. Of the live actors, Helena Bonham Carter is the most fun to watch. Her Red Queen differs from past interpretations and is neither as boisterous as Disney's own animated version nor as whiny as Hallmark's 1999 television movie. Bonham Carter approaches the role as someone with Tourette's Syndrome, the phrase "Off with their heads!" becoming her knee-jerk response to anything she's feeling. Of the voice acting, Stephen Fry's Cheshire Cat is the most memorable. He portrays the character as blasι and self-serving, not unlike an actual cat. Fry's cool, dry delivery sets him apart from the other characters who are either quirky or gravely serious.

I can't discuss Burton's Alice without mentioning, of course, Johnny Depp. Disney has shamelessly plastered his face and name all over the marketing and merchandise. It almost gives the impression that this is Mad Hatter in Wonderland. Thankfully, his role is merely a supporting one, which the film waits thirty minutes to introduce. There's something a little off about Depp's performance here. Not off in the way one usually associates with this character, but off in the sense that the characterization doesn't quite feel concrete. It almost feels like experimental work in progress. That doesn't mean he's not captivating to watch, as he avoids making the character as over-the-top as past interpretations, instead grounding the madness.

As for Mia Wasikowska in the titular role, she seems perfectly fine. The script really doesn't give her much to do outside of looking confused and goggling at everything around her. That would be adequate for the original Alice, but since this film is determined to make more of her than just a spectator, it poses a slight problem when she must suddenly become fierce and independent in the third act. Others may find her characterization bland, but she does provide more nuance than the screenplay requests, making Alice a believable person.

Looking back on it, I find Alice in Wonderland simultaneously entertaining and frustrating. It does so much right. The performers offer lively new interpretations of their characters, the art direction and visual effects are superb, and Danny Elfman's score creates a nice atmosphere. It all really falls apart in the pedestrian screenplay, a pretty generic fantasy adventure that just so happens to use Wonderland characters and settings. That wouldn't be so much of an issue were it not for the fact that it plants one foot on each side of the boundary. It's too straight-laced and normal for an Alice story, yet also doesn't fully establish the way its world works and how its characters think. It's a very entertaining journey, but with a better screenplay, it could've been so much more.

Buy Alice in Wonderland (2010) Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

BD: 1.78:1 Widescreen, DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish),
Dolby Surround (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Three single-sided discs (1 BD-50, 1 DVD-9, and 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
Double-wide blue keepcase with tray in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 1-Disc DVD, 1-Disc Blu-ray,
and Amazon.com-Exclusive Blu-ray/DVD Combo with Framed Film Cells

VIDEO and AUDIO

Alice in Wonderland comes to Blu-ray in 1.78:1, approximating its standard theatrical aspect ratio. It should surprise no one that the image is flawless. With such a heavy portion of the picture being CGI-based, it comes across as finely detailed and without any print or digital errors. Underland has a vivid color scheme that's rendered beautifully here, especially for those who saw the film darkened by 3-D glasses in theaters.
Alice in Wonderland merchandise Alice in Wonderland Supplies at Century Novelty
Alice in Wonderland 250x250
There's no instance of scrubbing present, as even in the digital sequences, fine film grain remains present. One would be hard-pressed to find any fault with this exceptional transfer.

The DTS-HD 5.1 MA track is equally superb. One doesn't usually associate aggressive sound effects with the story of Alice, but that's what they get here. Whether it's the roaring of the Bandersnatch and Jabberwocky, the shuffling of the red knights, or the high-speed tumble down the rabbit hole, the surrounds are always used to render this world more convincing. Quieter sequences offer nice ambience, all the more impressive when considering that the soundtrack was mostly done from scratch. Dialogue sounds clear, though Depp's Hatter is occasionally difficult to understand. The score is rich and mixed evenly with the other elements.

The included standard DVD's transfer falls short of the dazzling reference quality video you might expect. Its colors seem a little pale, but the picture is as clean as can be expected of a big-budget studio production that's digital in so many ways. The rare shot is oddly framed to 1.85:1, while the end credits are windowboxed. The DVD's Dolby 5.1 soundtrack doesn't disappoint in any way. It makes extensive use of all five speakers, supplying an active, aggressive aural experience.

Young Australian actress Mia Wasikowska discusses "Finding Alice." Tim Burton and Johnny Depp had different visions for The Mad Hatter, as their concept art shows in the character's featurette.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

On both formats, Alice in Wonderland is given a surprisingly light collection of bonus features. The Blu-ray Disc splits them up into two groups, each with a "Play All" option to treat them as documentaries.
Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland
Wonderland Characters (27:55) holds the following featurettes: "Finding Alice" (5:24), "The Mad Hatter" (6:00), "The Futterwacken" (3:23), "The Red Queen" (5:58), "Time-Lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen" (2:39), and "The White Queen" (4:27).

Each of the shorts with a character title focuses on that particular one via cast and crew member comments. The performers explain what they did to set their characterizations apart from previous film versions and even discuss a bit of the psychology and backstories of their parts. "Futterwacken" looks at how famed viral video dancer David "Elsewhere" Bernal stepped in for Johnny Depp to perform the unique dance seen towards the film's end. "Time-Lapse" is exactly what it sounds like - a speedy video of Helena Bonham Carter's arduous process in the make-up chair. While brief, all the segments are entertaining to watch (especially the innuendo exhibited by the interviewees during "The Futterwacken") and also avoid sounding too promotional as they offer nice details on casting.

As eyepatched Red Queen army head Stayne, Crispin Glover has something explained to him by a crew member on the bright green screen set of "Effecting Wonderland." The "Tea Party Props" are all carefully laid out amidst stand-ins for Thackery the March Hare and Mally the Dormouse, only to be wrecked by Tarrant as he walks across the table, resetting the process.

Making Wonderland (19:28) focuses on the production itself. It holds "Scoring Wonderland" (3:10), "Effecting Wonderland" (6:50), "Stunts of Wonderland" (2:34), "Making the Proper Size" (2:13), "Cakes of Wonderland" (2:33), and "Tea Party Props" (2:04).

This section is strangely lighter than the previous one despite the potential to delve deeper. It provides only rudimentary notes on the visual effects and Alice's size changes. The pieces on the cakes and props zip by with little actually learned about those aspects, and only a few tidbits pop up regarding the score and stunts. They all only scratch the surface of what was surely a fascinating production. At least the behind-the-scenes footage presented throughout keeps these from being too stale.

As is customary now, the Blu-ray is available on its own or in a 3-disc combo pack which, for a few dollars more, adds the standard DVD and a digital copy for portable use. The only extras included on the DVD are the "Finding Alice" (5:24), "The Mad Hatter" (6:00), and "Effecting Wonderland" (6:50) featurettes. Considering the supplements barely run 45 minutes in total, they all could've fit on the DVD with no problem, meaning this is yet another ploy to encourage purchase of the Blu-ray. The DVD also includes the now-standard promos for Blu-ray and digital copy. How sad you've become, Disney DVD.

Helena Bonham Carter, partner and frequent leading lady of director Tim Burton, describes her morning make-up experience while it's shown in time-lapse footage in one of the Blu-ray's nine exclusive featurettes. Oraculum renderings of Cheshire Cat, the Bandersnatch, and a Red Queen knight appear on the DVD's animated main menu.

Supplement-wise, neither format's offerings are very enticing. A big to-do was made of how Disney was cutting short Alice's theatrical run by speeding up the home video release. Several theater chains protested and threatened not to exhibit the film. After all that hullabaloo, Alice opened without a hitch and became the epic blockbuster it now is. The rushed nature of the Blu-ray is apparent.
A motion picture that's made nearly one billion dollars globally surely deserves an extensive special features slate. Where are the commentaries? The galleries? The picture-in-picture material? This would've been the perfect title to use PiP on, as Disney could've shown the original green screen footage alongside the main feature ΰ la Warner's 300. An extended scene with Tarrant and Mally in prison (photos of which exist of in both the Visual Guide and Visual Companion books) is nowhere to be found.

Heck, so much was made about the obnoxious Almost Alice spin-off album, yet none of the music videos from that appear here. The "Ultimate Fan Event", a concert of these tunes that featured appearances from the cast and crew, is also oddly missing. A production as elaborate as Alice's must have more to offer than this. It's possible that the inevitable 3-D Blu-ray re-release will be more satisfying, but judging by how light A Christmas Carol's recently-announced 3-D combo pack sounds, that seems unlikely.

Both the Blu-ray and FastPlay-equipped DVD load with Disney's cringeworthy "Moms like Blu-ray" promo, trailers for The Sorcerer's Apprentice and Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, and a Cruella Devil anti-smoking spot. Oddly, there is no Sneak Peeks menu (one more cost cut); selecting the listing simply plays a Louis-themed "Genuine Disney Treasure" promo and spots for Disney Movie Rewards, Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 Diamond Editions. The DVD also includes ads for The Black Cauldron: Special Edition and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, before returning to the disc-loaders. Exclusive to the Blu-ray's lot is a Disney Parks commercial.

On both the Blu-ray and DVD, the main menu is designed like the Oraculum, with different events from the film retold in its storybook illustration style while "Alice's Theme" plays. The Blu-ray's selections are joined by runtimes and arranged vertically on the left, opening to the right. Its loading screen features the White Rabbit's watch running. Though only the DVD's main menu is animated, all are scored.

The combo pack holds the three discs in a new tray-swinging slim case the same size as single-disc Blu-ray cases. An embossed, reflective cardboard slipcover slides over it. A pamphlet inside supplies the combination Disney Movie Rewards/Disneyfile code, while another advertise Disney releases and the one item everyone associates with Wonderland: shampoo.

Alice's size issues continue as, shrunken, she stands only slightly taller than the teapot at the Mad Hatter's (Johnny Depp) tea party.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland had the potential to be something truly astounding.
The visuals are gorgeous and the actors are well cast, but a somewhat bland screenplay hinders it from excelling, unsure of if it wants to be a Wonderland or Narnia film. Still, when taken without expectations or hype, it's pleasantly entertaining, which is more than can be said of most of Disney's recent live-action movies, not to mention other massive blockbusters of this scale.

The Blu-ray Disc offers demo-quality video and audio, but a mediocre collection of supplements. Fans of either Alice in Wonderland or fantasy in general will find something to like here. This is recommended for them so long as they leave their baggage before descending the rabbit hole.

Buy Alice in Wonderland from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Combo / 1-Disc DVD / 1-Disc Blu-ray / Combo with Framed Film Cells

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Related Reviews:
Alice in Wonderland (1951) (Special Un-Anniversary Edition) • Alice (2009 Miniseries) • Mickey's Adventures in Wonderland
From Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, & Helena Bonham Carter: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street • Dark Shadows
New: Dear John • The Road • Extraordinary Measures • The Spy Next Door • Nine • Invictus • Peanuts 1970's Collection, Vol. 2
Johnny Depp: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl • Dead Man's Chest • At World's End | Finding Neverland
Anne Hathaway: The Princess Diaries • The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement • Becoming Jane • Get Smart
The Nightmare Before Christmas (3-Disc Collector's Edition) • Peter Pan (Platinum Edition) • The Lion King • Avatar
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Labyrinth (Anniversary Edition) • The Spiderwick Chronicles • Where the Wild Things Are • Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Phoenix and the Carpet • Stardust • Return to Oz • Legend of the Seeker: The Complete First Season

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Reviewed May 26, 2010.

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