There's wonder around every corner in Tim Burton's fairytale, writes MARK LUNDRIGAN
FLYING over mist-shrouded houses to the sound of a haunting string-laden score, we know from the very first scene that we are not just in Wonderland - we are also in the gloriously dark place that is Tim Burtonland.
One of the few directors who has made his style of movies - gothic fantasy- his very own, Burton takes the classic children's tale Alice In Wonderland and twists it into his own dark, strange vision, filling a land full of strange beings such as talking rabbits, caterpillars and cats and, of course, Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter.
The plot is much the same as in Disney's original 1951 animated classic, itself an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 19th-century novel.
Alice (Mia Wasikowska), while fleeing from her horrendous family after an impromptu proposal from a leering suitor, follows a white rabbit into nearby woods.
Falling through a rabbit-hole, Alice lands in a world where drinks cause you to shrink and cakes makes you grow.
Meeting up with such characters as Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), Alice becomes aware that Wonderland has been part of her dreams since a little child - but this time a pinch on the arm won't wake her up.
Discovering her fate in Wonderland lies with the slaying of the much-feared Jabberwocky, which is under the command of the evil Red Queen, Alice sets out to get help from the Mad Hatter.
The plot, though, lies second to the amazing special effects - some of the most elaborate seen on the big screen and, twinned with 3D vision, a truly exhilarating experience.
From the moment Alice plummets down the rabbit-hole (one of the best uses of 3D), all manner of creatures and weapons are fired at the unsuspecting audience.
Alice, alternating from being tiny and huge (and rarely inbetween), visibly transforms in her journey in more ways than one.
Starting off as a pasty teenager, she grows in stature, taking to the final battle as a heroic Boadicea-like figure.
Top-billed Johnny Depp is as quirky as you would imagine him to be, giving the Mad Hatter a Scottish accent, ginger hair and odd-sized pupils, but he is also quite subtle, never overpowering the ensemble cast.
Comedy comes the way of Matt Lucas as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, with 'their' constant looks of surprise and confusion.
Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter also causes a few giggles (and scares) as the evil Red Queen with an abnormally enlarged head - an amazing feat of special effects technology.
Dark moments, such as Alice climbing across a moat using corpse heads as stepping stones, will give a few children a shock, but these moments are only to be expected in a Burton film.
There are only a few minuses in the film, such as Johnny Depp's cringingly bizarre dance scene and the superfluous epilogue, but that would be like criticising the Venus de Milo for having no arms.
Simultaneously colourful and dark, set at a breathtaking pace and making superb use of its 3D effects, Alice In Wonderland is a delight for all the family.