Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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I know Tim Burton has been accused lately of repeating the same cycle: Danny Elfman’s wild ensemble themes, Johnny Depp playing obscure characters, Burton’s own goth-punk visuals, and so on.  I’ve never claimed to be the biggest follower of Burton’s work, but when he gets his mits on a chunk of material that has been important to me since childhood, I start to pay attention.

It took me awhile to get out to see Burton’s re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, based of course on Lewis Carroll’s works of children’s literature, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass.  Thankfully, the Crossgates Mall has more theater rooms than they know what to do with, so I was able to snag a single ticket at the last possible second and grab a seat as the previews were starting.

First off, the source material.  This film is a re-imagining, as previously mentioned, so it doesn’t follow the story of the two novels exactly.  We begin during Alice’s younger days when she’s traveling to “Underland” (Wonderland) in her dreams, and we quickly cut to her late teens and the day on which she is to be engaged to a homely, stuck-up English gentleman (Leo Bill).  She’s a rebellious, non-corset-wearing girl who has different ideas about how the whole arranged marriage thing should work, and we can see from the start that it’s not going to work out so well.  As the story we know goes, she sees the White Rabbit and falls down the rabbit-hole, returning to Wonderland and forgetting her childhood visit.  This decision gives the filmmakers more breathing space with the story (which usually turns out for the worst; see Peter Jackson’s butchering of The Lord of the Rings, another piece of literature that means the world to me), but in this case, it’s handled relatively well.  

The film draws heavily on Carroll’s poem, Jabberwocky, and uses the “frabjous day” as a prophecy.  In the film, the Jabberwock itself is a minion of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and must be slain in order to end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.  In a very good scene with shrunken-Alice, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) speaks a good-sized chunk of the poem in a Scottish accent, which I found satisfying.  The film retains a great atmosphere despite the fact that most of its landscape calls for CG, and the assorted creatures, which include the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), Absalom the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), and Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas) seem like they’re there with Alice in the same way Roger Rabbit was there with Bob Hoskins.  In too many movies lately, CG seems to be a requirement, and the telltale signs that the actors are looking at nothing is all too evident.   

Mia Wasikowska is superbly cast as Alice, and Burton’s choice to portray her as a unique girl with engaging motives (continuing her father’s legacy in oceanic trading) instead of creating another Lydia Deetz is truly inspired.  The art direction, especially in Wasikowska’s scenes, is invigoratingly fresh and visually stimulating.  The “drink me” scene, which could have been quick and throwaway, ends up being one of the best in the film, as we are trapped in that room with Alice until she figures out the puzzle, and we learn a lot about her in the process, at the same time as we share the voyeur’s seat with the Wonderland inhabitants wondering why she doesn’t remember the solution.  Pay attention to Alice’s socks as the film goes on.

The film is going out of theaters now, but I’m sure the DVD version will be equally colorful and satisfying.  Watch it on a large television.

Alice In Wonderland  (2010)- written by Linda Woolverton (based on the works of Lewis Carroll), directed by Tim Burton, starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway.

1 Comment

  1. […] course, played in this version by the staggeringly talented Mia Wasikowska (about whom I gushed in my Alice in Wonderland piece).  Growing up in the house of her horrid aunt, Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins), Jane is frequently […]

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