By Dave Campbell | March 5, 2010
Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay) Lewis Carroll (book)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Christopher Lee, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Matt Lucas, Michael Gough, Timothy Spall
Music: Danny Elfman
In continuation of the Lewis Carroll novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Alice in Wonderland follows the curious and free spirited Alice, now 19 years of age. The story starts off as Alice and her mother approach an afternoon garden party. Taking the stance of an early champion in the feminist movement Alice rebels against the “proper” social place the woman of this era held. To the horror of her mother, Alice isn’t wearing the stockings and corset that are to accompany the dress she is wearing for an event that is secretly about her. Alice’s unfortunate suitor Hamish, has had his parents throw this gathering as a stage for his engagement, but Alice remains to be a girl of dreams and “what ifs?”.
Presented with this life changing proposition, Alice flees to follow the reappearing White Rabbit who takes her down the rabbit hole and into the place she visited 12 years prior, Wonderland (Underland). Wonderland is now looking for the champion savior who will stand against the Red Queen and slay her Jabberwocky on Frabjous Day with the Vorpal sword. Still following me here? By coincidence the very savior they seek is pictured in a magic scroll and looks just like an older Alice in body armor. Most are certain that Neo, excuse me I mean Alice, is the chosen one but some feel that she is not the right Alice. Will Alice be able to face her new grown up responsibilities, or will she face them in unconventional ways to define her own path…
Tim Burton’s new vision on the classic Lewis Carroll tale takes Alice into new territories and mediums. The 3-D is welcomed but really unnecessary to the environment, minus a few particular moments. Danny Elfman again represents his position as the second arm to Burton’s tone and environment with another score that bears witness to why you can’t have a Tim Burton film without Danny Elfman (minus Sweeney Todd). The overall look to Wonderland is Burton-esque, but not as much as I had hoped. This is a step in the dark direction for Disney whom you might remember pulled their label from Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas just before it’s release in 1993. The number of eye impalements, decapitated heads, and hookah puffs will surely have the crazies from fundamentalist religious groups protesting Disney over this film.
As far as stand out performances from the film, Mia Wasikowska really nailed the young adult version of Alice for me. With Alice approaching the ripe age of 20, she seems wise and beyond her years in many ways but also holds onto the innocence and endearing wonderment of youth. It’s a nice blend that really works for the continuity of Alice’s character.
Anne Hathaway was very well cast as the White Queen, but at times she almost seems like a parody of the standard Disney princess. She gracefully floats around almost singing her lines, but her overdone hand and arm posturing make me want to join the mad tea party. Helena Bonham Carter is also pitch perfect as the charmingly nasty Red Queen. It took me a minute or two to get past her enlarged head, but her presence is a solid pillar to the experience.
The Cheshire Cat was always one of my favorite things from Disney’s 1951 animated Alice in Wonderland and the trend continues here. The combo of spectacular CG and the voice talent of Stephen Fry make the Cheshire Cat one of the most rewarding elements to the film. He’s also the only thing that really merits the 3-D. As well done as the creatures of Wonderland are rendered, there are some issues with the live action characters that are digitally manipulated, most notably being Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts. I must mention Glover was excellently cast and gave a spot on character performance, but the falseness of his movements really stood out to me. His actual physical performance and the digital layer never seemed to meet a fluidity that married the two together.
The biggest problem I had with this tale of Alice is the focus that was put on the Mad Hatter, or rather Johnny Depp. In all honesty, the Mad Hatter might very well be the cause to the dysfunction of this film. Too many excuses are made sacrificing the plot just to bring in Depp and rack up his screen time. Instead of falling into the character with Depp, it was hard to get past the overkill circus of his clown make-up, costume, and multiple accents. I got pulled out of the film as he transitioned from a lisp-y English whisper, to ranting like an angry Scottish man, and finishing off with a very Jack Sparrow-ish pirate garble. I know he is the Mad Hatter and all, but did the role also gain multiple personalities for the character and this film?
Besides my earlier statement about the Hatter, the costumes for the film are pretty damn fabulous. The piece that really stood out was the dress that the Red Queen had made up for Alice to wear in her court – it’s award winning great. The rest of the film was technically well done but cinematography and art design seemed muted to me by the 3-D that Hollywood is forcibly spoon feeding us.
Being an avid Tim Burton fan, my first viewing of Alice in Wonderland concluded in confusion. Moments of enjoyment were had, but with the added cost of disappointment. What seems like the perfect vehicle for Burton to run wild with his unique vision of style and tone, he more-or-less finds himself a little lost in the rabbit hole.