September 10, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Alice in Wonderland

Title: Alice in Wonderland
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, and the voices of Michael Sheen and Alan Rickman
Director: Tim Burton
Screenplay: Linda Woolverton
Released: Walt Disney Pictures (2010)
Category/Genre: Children's Fantasy

Maybe it's a comfort level that keeps Tim Burton and Johnny Depp gravitating towards each other. Maybe it's a shared appreciation for the bizarre. Maybe they both just happen to have their weirdness set to the same frequency, who knows. I will say though, I wouldn't have ever expected them to do a Disney film together.

Alice in Wonderland isn't so much a sequel, as it's a re-imagined follow up to a skewed version of the animated film Disney released decades ago. Each character is presented as a somewhat refracted version of how they appeared in the cartoon--and Carroll's original work. Stylistically, I liked it. Burton has always had a way of created wonderful eye candy, though.

There's something in the narrative of the story that felt a wee bit off the mark, and I'm not sure if that was purposeful on Burton's part. Alice (Mia Wasiksowska) is in her teens and arranged to be married to a pompous little prick. As she wanders the grounds of her own engagement party, there are allusions to Wonderland and its inhabitants all over the place, but Alice doesn't seem to take any notice of them until the white rabbit shows up. Despite a brief explanation that she has discounted her adventures in Wonderland as delusions and dreams from a childhood fever, the setup felt like it was Alice's first foray into the strange world. It felt a little clunky in parts, but once she was down the rabbit hole things picked up and I was along for the ride.

With Johnny Depp cast as the Mad Hatter, it should have been expected that there'd be an equal amount of character development afforded to him as to Alice. For a while there, the film was pulled out from under Alice and focused on the Hatter's apparent PTSD surrounding the fall of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Every time he thought of those times, he'd slip into a Scottish brogue and glare into space, kind of like when Britney Spears went outhouse crazy a few years ago and started braying about in a British accent.

As for Helena Bonham Carter, she played the Red Queen quite well and the CGI effects of ballooning her head only helped shape the character even more. The relationship between she and her head knight/henchman (Crispin Glover) gave a nice humanizing effect to her, too. Though, she came off as more amusingly eccentric and short tempered than a tyrannical dictator like the Red Queen appeared in the cartoon--still my favorite portrayal of the Queen, I must say.

The movie looked fantastic for the most part, even though some of the apparent shots were gratuitously added for the sake of anyone seeing it in 3D. The story felt a bit muddled and lacked suspense. Underland (that's what it's really called apparently) needs a champion to fight the Jabberwockie, and everyone knows it's Alice, but there's still this artificial is-she-or-isn't-she question hanging over her head through the whole film despite the very clear message that she is destined to slay the quasi-dragon creature. In fact, the final battle scene with all its pomp and circumstance felt dull and well-worn, like a G-rated Lord of the Rings showdown.

Devotees to Lewis Carroll's stories, and even the animated classic, could either walk away from this movie enthralled or thoroughly dissatisfied. It's a coin toss. I didn't mind it, and some scenes--especially those involving the March Hare or the Cheshire Cat--really put a smile on my face. But I have a feeling that when I finally get around to reading Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars, I'm going to see a lot of source material that could well have served to inspire Burton's movie.

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