DVD Release Date:  June 1, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  March 5, 2010
Rating:  PG (for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar)
Genre:  Adventure/Adaptation/Family/Fantasy
Run Time:  108 min.
Director:  Tim Burton
Actors:  Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Leo Bill

In the first few minutes of Alice in Wonderland we learn the best people in the world are apparently "bonkers," perhaps, a fitting nod to the man behind the lens himself, Tim Burton.

Given that Burton has been the guy responsible for everything from the bizarrely lovable Edward Scissorhands to the truly demented update of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (remember Johnny Depp's blindingly white buck teeth and anything but kid-friendly demeanor?) to the grisliest of all Broadway musicals, Sweeney Todd, where men are offed during their regular haircuts and promptly used as filling for London's famed meat pies, it's not surprising that Lewis Carroll's Alice, no matter how many times it's already been adapted, would be a perfect vehicle for Burton's unconventional filmmaking.

And trust me, a little oddity in the right hands can be a good, good thing on the big screen—especially in 3D. But we'll get back to those eye-popping visuals in a moment…

First, let's focus on the story, shall we? For those hoping for (or anticipating) a more straightforward approach, Alice won't likely please the purists because it's really more a "re-imagining" of the classic tale than anything. Sure, it features many of the same characters and zig-zagging motifs, but in the same way that Hook wasn't a page-by-page reenactment of Peter Pan, Alice's journey down the rabbit hole isn't strictly by the book.

Instead of showing us Alice's first journey to Wonderland, it's now several years later, and Alice doesn't even remember visiting before (although in later scenes, we'll see that she has). While everyone tries their best to remind Alice of her  legendary "muchness" upon her arrival, she's all but convinced she's simply having another one of her crazy dreams.

Before following the mysterious while rabbit with the ticking timepiece at his side into the forest, Alice, now 19 years old, is at the proverbial crossroads in her life. Rebelling against the conventional Victorian ideals of her peers about who she should marry (especially in light of a recent proposal from the drippy suitor at her impromptu engagement bash) or what a woman's expected role is in society, Alice believes that nobody should tell her what she can—or can't—dream, even if it involves drinking a mysterious shrinking potion or enjoying the company of a wacky Mad Hatter (Depp in fine comedic form), a disappearing Cheshire cat and a blue furry caterpillar with a bad smoking habit.

Of course, Alice gets far more than she bargained for when entering the place formerly known as Wonderland. Not only is she avoiding capture from an array of scary predators, but she's tasked with fighting a frightening Jabberwocky to overthrow the reign of the conniving Red Queen (a delightfully menacing Helena Bonham Carter), something she's positive she can't do even if her life depended on it (and it does).

Basically if growing up seemed hard to do before, well, she's in for quite a surprise.

In the meantime, the audience is taken on the sort of fanciful, bourgeois journey that only someone like Burton could've dreamed up. With enough eye candy, humor and intrigue to keep anything resembling boredom at bay, there's plenty to love about Alice's latest chapter.

However, be forewarned:  Just because Disney is involved doesn't necessarily make it family-friendly. There's enough disturbing content (see Cautions below) to give your little ones nightmares for weeks (think Coraline or the recent version of A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey). But for anyone who enjoys a delightfully eccentric afternoon at the movies and isn't easily scared, well, there's still plenty of magic left in Alice, thanks to Burton teaming up with his motley crew of choice:  his always-engaging wife (Bonham Carter), Depp, the master chameleon and a wacky but lovable supporting cast of people probably regarded as slightly "bonkers."

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Alice drinks a mysterious substance that makes her small, a few bites of a particular cake make her grow. Absalom, a furry blue caterpillar, is rarely seen without puffing on his hookah, which makes him constantly surrounded by smoke.

  • Language/Profanity:  None, aside from the British use of "bloody" as an expletive.

  • Sex/Nudity:  Alice sees her brother-in-law kissing a woman who's not his wife. One of the creatures has freakishly large breasts (which actually turn out to be fake). The Red Queen's consort hits on Alice, and later in the story tells the queen that Alice hit on him. After getting wind of that, the Red Queen suggests she be arrested for unlawful seduction.

  • Violence:  Like many of Tim Burton's films, there's a decidedly dark tone and a few scary, action-packed scenes in Alice in Wonderland that would be particularly frightening to younger children. Starting things off is Alice's fated fall down that rabbit hole. Not only does she bounce off the furniture, but her life is threatened by a plummeting piano that could've easily crushed her. Upon arriving in Wonderland (or is it "Underland"?), there are many disturbing realities. In addition to the Red Queen's "Off with their head!" declarations for anyone who fails to satisfy her every passing whim (and her general mistreatment of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, not to mention the animals, like the pig's belly she uses as an ottoman), there are numerous potentially perilous foes. First off, there's the Bandersnatch (a feline-esque beast with some freakishly sharp teeth that leave angry, festering wounds on Alice's arm at one point) and the Jabberwocky, the scariest, fire-breathing foe who's intent on ending Alice's life. In one scene, the Bandersnatch also loses an eye (thanks to a sword-bearing dormouse who stabs him and plucks its out). There's a big (but mostly bloodless) battle at movie's end with Alice and the Jabberwocky at the center of it.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.