UNDERLAND, says screenwriter Linda Woolverton, is a part of the earth. “But it lies somewhere far beneath our world. The only way to get there is to fall down a rabbit hole.” It is the same fantastical land that Alice visited as a child, but she misheard the word “Underland” and thought they said “Wonderland.” Alice, now age 19, heads back down the rabbit hole and though she has no memory of her previous adventures in Underland, she is reunited with its inhabitants, including a swashbuckling Dormouse, an off-his-rocker Mad Hatter, a grinning Cheshire Cat, a caterpillar called Absolem, a beautiful White Queen and her spiteful older sister the Red Queen. “Time has passed,” says Woolverton. “The Red Queen rules the whole land. It’s under her thumb. And the people of Underland need Alice.” Underland has come upon hard times since the malevolent Red Queen took over the throne. It is, however, a truly wonderful land, which might explain why the girl who mistook it for Wonderland has been called upon to help return it to its glory. But, says Woolverton, “Underland has always been Underland since the Beginning, no matter who sits on the throne. It will remain Underland until the End.”
ALICE (Mia Wasikowska) is a 19-year-old woman contemplating her future. An independent soul, she feels trapped in the narrow-minded views of women in aristocratic Victorian London. Alice Kingsleigh is uncertain how to balance her dreams with other people’s expectations. Following the death of her beloved father, she attends a garden party with her mother and sister, although, unbeknownst to her, it’s been planned as her engagement party. Just as the arrogant and dull Hamish Ascot proposes to her, Alice spots a White Rabbit wearing a waistcoat and pocket watch scurrying across the grounds. She rushes off after the furry fellow, tumbling down a rabbit hole and into Underland, a place she first visited as a child (and called Wonderland)—though she has no memory of it or its inhabitants. Alice nevertheless reunites with her childhood friends, including Absolem the caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and of course, the Mad Hatter—and seeks her true destiny. “In the beginning, Alice is very awkward and uncomfortable in her skin,” Wasikowska says. “So her experience in Underland is about reconnecting with herself and finding she has the strength to be more self-assured in figuring out what she wants.”
THE MAD HATTER (Johnny Depp) doesn’t just wear his heart on his sleeve—his ever-changing moods are quite literally reflected in his face and his attire. He’s been anxiously awaiting Alice’s return and is, arguably, her one true friend, believing in her when nobody else does. He is fearless, going to great lengths to protect her at his own risk. Once the proud hat maker for the White Queen, the Hatter has been affected by mercury poisoning, an unfortunate side effect of the hat-making process, and isn’t altogether well. “I always saw the Hatter as kind of tragic,” says Depp. “He’s a victim in a lot of ways. The mercury has certainly taken its toll, but there’s a tragic element to his past in this particular version that weighs pretty heavily on the character.”
IRACEBETH, THE RED QUEEN (Helena Bonham Carter) is the tyrannical monarch of Underland. With her oversized head, fiery temper and propensity to scream for people’s heads to be chopped off, she rules her subjects through fear. “She’s got emotional problems,” says Bonham Carter. “It takes nothing, practically, for her to lose her temper. Her tantrums are that of a two-year-old.” Her younger sibling, the White Queen, has designs on the throne and crown that Iracebeth once stole from her.
MIRANA, THE WHITE QUEEN (Anne Hathaway) is the younger sister of the Red Queen, and while she appears to be all sweetness and light, beneath the surface there’s a hint of darkness to her character. “She comes from the same gene pool as the Red Queen,” says Hathaway. “She really likes the dark side, but she’s so scared of going too far into it that she’s made everything appear very light and happy. But she’s living in that place out of fear that she won’t be able to control herself.” When Alice returns to Underland, the White Queen takes her under her wing, offering her protection, although her motives aren’t completely altruistic.
TWEEDLEDEE and TWEEDLEDUM (Matt Lucas) are rotund twin brothers who constantly disagree with each other and whose confusing chatter makes little sense to anyone but them. When Alice arrives in Underland, she looks to the Tweedles for guidance. Innocent and infantile, adorable and sweet, they mean well but are of little real help since they speak in weird rhythms and riddles. “I imagine them as naughty Victorian children, with their hand in the honey jar,” says Lucas, the British comedian and actor who plays them both. “And so I have made them quite child-like, which does come naturally to me, because I’m a big kid anyway.”
ILOSOVIC STAYNE, THE KNAVE OF HEARTS (Crispin Glover) is the head of the Red Queen’s Army. Seven feet, six-inches tall, with a scarred face and a heart-shaped patch covering his left eye, Stayne is an arrogant, tricky character who follows the Red Queen’s every order. He’s the only one capable of pacifying her and calming her dramatic mood swings. “I am the marshal element for the Red Queen,” says Glover. “The Red Queen has a fair amount of short-tempered reactions to things that people do, and so my character has to be quite diplomatic.” His darker side emerges in the shadows of the castle hallways.
CHESSUR, THE CHESHIRE CAT (voice of Stephen Fry) is a dapper tabby with the ability to appear and disappear. He is all calm, casual sensuality with a seductive grin that masks his cowardice. It’s the cat’s disembodied head that first appears to Alice in Tulgey Wood after she’s been attacked by the vicious Bandersnatch. He offers to purify the gashes on her arm by licking them. Alice declines, although she allows him to lead her to the Hatter’s Tea Party where the Hatter blames him for deserting them on the day the Red Queen seized control of Underland. Using his skills and the Hatter’s coveted top hat, Chessur later finds a way to redeem himself.
McTWISP, THE WHITE RABBIT (voice of Michael Sheen) is always worried about being late, always in a hurry, always rushing about. Charged with finding Alice and bringing her back to Underland so that she can fulfill her destiny, he shows up at her garden party in an effort to lure her back down the rabbit hole. “He’s a warm character,” says Sheen, “but, at the same time, he can be quite fussy and quite strict with Alice as well. He has an edge to him, a nervous energy, always feeling like he’s behind time. Time is very important to him, but he’s quite brave when called upon.”
THE BANDERSNATCH is a disgusting, drooling, foul-smelling creature with a big filthy body and the squashed, teeth-baring face of a rabid bulldog. A swipe of his long claws leaves Alice with a rather painful reminder of the Red Queen’s horrible reign.
MALLYMKUN, THE DORMOUSE (voice of Barbara Windsor) is a swashbuckling mouse in Underland who wears riding breeches. She refuses to believe that the White Rabbit has found the right Alice, the one who can help return Underland to its true splendor, and is only too happy to poke poor Alice in the ankle with a hat pin when Alice insists she’s only dreaming. But the tough little mouse comes through in a pinch when Alice is threatened by a clawing creature called a Bandersnatch. Her loyalty to the Hatter is unmatched, and she willingly faces the prospect of death to stand by him.
THE MARCH HARE (voice of Paul Whitehouse) hosts the Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties at his Hare House. Paranoid, anxious and slightly insane, he constantly wrings his paws and ears and has a thing for tossing teapots and other items. He has a penchant for cooking and is one of the few Underland inhabitants to escape the Red Queen’s clutches all together.
BAYARD THE BLOODHOUND (voice of Timothy Spall) is an unwilling accomplice to the Red Queen’s forces, fearful that his imprisoned wife and pups will be injured if he doesn’t do Stayne’s bidding. He proves to be secretively loyal to the Underland Underground resistance, becoming both Alice’s ally and a rather convenient transportation system.
THE DODO (voice of Michael Gough) is one of the first residents of Underland Alice sees upon entering the fantastical world. One of the oldest Underland inhabitants, the Dodo wears eye-glasses and carries a walking stick. Both quiet and wise, he stops his friends bickering over Alice’s true identity by suggesting they bring her to the even wiser Absolem.
ABSOLEM, THE CATERPILLAR (voice of Alan Rickman) is the all-knowing and absolute guardian of the Oraculum, an ancient document that depicts every major event, past, present and future, in Underland’s history. Alice is taken by the White Rabbit and the Tweedles to meet Absolem, so that he can ascertain whether she is, in fact, the real Alice who first visited Underland as a child, the Alice who is destined to help them. They find the bulbous blue caterpillar atop a mushroom in a mushroom forest surrounded by misty smoke. Several times Absolem challenges Alice to come to a better understanding of herself, forcing her to face the difficult question: “Who are you?"