Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but up until recently, I hadn’t realized that Tim Burton‘s “Alice in Wonderland” isn’t actually an adaptation of Lewis Carroll‘s classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Oh, it was inspired by that book (and its sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass”), using the same characters and many similar motifs, but like Spielberg’s “Hook” in relation with J.M. Barrie “Peter Pan”, “Alice in Wonderland” is actually a variation on the source material more than a straight retelling of the original story.

Also not unlike “Hook” is the way our protagonist, Alice (“The Alice?”), is now older, has all but forgotten her famous adventures and has seemingly lost her “muchness”. Hence, the plot of this new tale revolves mostly around Alice’s return to Wonderland, her reluctance to accept that she’s the legendary one everyone tells her she is, and her eventual acceptance of her aforementioned “muchness”.

Another interesting twist is how screenwriter Linda Woolverton has made Alice into a feminist figure, an empowered young woman (a well-cast Mia Wasikowska) who rebels against the idea of others deciding who she should marry, what she should do with her life and what she should believe in. If she wants to believe in a potion that can make you small, cake that can make you tall, animals who can talk (Michael Sheen‘s White Rabbit, Alan Rickman‘s Caterpillar, Barbara Windsor‘s Dormouse, Timothy Spall‘s Bayard the Bloodhound, etc.), a smiling feline that can disappear (Stephen Fry‘s Chesire Cat) and other “curious and curiouser” things, who’s to say she can’t? It’s her dreams, dammit, she’ll do whatever she wants with them, thank you very much!

Unsurprisingly, Tim Burton has also made the world the story takes place into his own, depicting Wonderland (or is it Underland?) as a gloomier, more Gothic place, filled with grotesque creatures. Burton has also stressed out the idea that while many of the characters might be “bonkers”, all the best people in the world are anyway. So yeah, Johnny Depp‘s Mad Hatter is another beautiful misfit, not that far removed from Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Willy Wonka, etc.

Some might deplore that instead of following the glorious literary nonsense of the books, “Alice in Wonderland” goes for a more generic fantasy plot, involving a conflict between the Red Queen (a fully committed Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (a dull Anne Hathaway), the search for a mythic sword and an attempt to slay the terrifying Jabberwocky dragon, but faithful to Lewis Carroll’s vision or not, I liked the ride Burton took me on here, with its imaginative art direction, dynamic visuals and pretty awesome special effects.