Thursday, March 25, 2010 11:14 PM
(Last updated on Friday, March 26, 2010 08:23 AM)
On the Viewer - Alice in Wonderland (2010)
 by Fëanor

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, are two of the first, classic fantasy adventure stories, in which a young child stumbles through a portal into a strange and magical world. But they're more than that: they're also full of surreal and hilarious nonsense, not to mention clever and subtle literary parody and even a little political and social satire. They're wonderful, deeply influential, and quite unique. I've always been a fan of fantasy adventures in general, and the Alice stories in particular; I'm even working on writing my own book about a young child stumbling into a magical world right now.

All of which is to say, I was really looking forward to seeing Tim Burton's re-imagining of the Alice stories. Given his filmography and general artistic tendencies, it would seem as if he were born to turn them into movies. Sadly, his film takes Lewis Carroll's excellently clever, wonderfully nonsensical fantasy saga and shoehorns it into a cliched, stereotypical fantasy/adventure plot about a chosen one who has to find herself in order to defeat an ultimate evil in an epic, prophesied final battle.

Maybe it was because I'd recently seen a comedy short online about Tim Burton and the repetitive nature of his work, but as I was watching this movie, I found myself ticking off in my head all the typical Tim Burton things as they popped up: a charmingly eerie Danny Elfman score which includes a children's chorus; a pale, sickly-looking main character with Daddy issues; crazy costumes with lots of stripes on them; Johnny Depp as a giant weirdo; Helena Bonham Carter as a giant weirdo. Admittedly, Elfman's score is atmospheric and inoffensive; Mia Wasikowska makes a fine Alice; the film is both stunning and inventive, at least as far as the visual component is concerned; and Carter practically steals the show as the childish, vain, bloodthirsty, giant-headed Red Queen. The way her court all try to suck up and gain favor by wearing unnaturally large fake appendages is brilliant, as is Crispin Glover's disturbing yet funny confession that he loves largeness. Another nearly perfect character is the Cheshire Cat, an entirely computer-generated creation voiced by Stephen Fry. The Cheshire Cat appears and disappears, floats and smiles, jokes and teases just exactly the way you would expect a Cheshire Cat to do all those things.

It's Johnny Depp who is, surprisingly, a bit of a disappointment. He's all right as the Hatter, but he's also a little too shouty and odd to be as lovable as he's apparently meant to be. Worst of all, he does a horrendous computer-assisted dance near the end of the film that I actually had to turn away from, it was so awful. It's kind of cute the way they keep saying throughout the movie that the Mad Hatter will do the "fudderwhack" when the land is free again, but when the moment actually comes - rather suddenly and unexpectedly, as if the editor had to shove it in at the last minute - and he really does it, it feels incredibly awkward and embarrassing. Perhaps even more awkward and embarrassing is when Alice tries the dance herself after returning to the "real" world.

The opening part of the film does a good job of making the regular world of high society and of doing what one must instead of what one wishes look stuffy and stiff and dull, while also giving it that quirky, surreal Burton twist. But when we return to this world at the end, we are treated to a painfully unlikely, unbelievable, and treacly-sweet ending in which Alice - who is, remember, a young woman living in what appears to be late 19th century/early 20th century England - quickly and easily talks her father's former partner into taking her advice on expanding his business into China, letting her become an apprentice, and furthermore allowing her to sail off, apparently alone, into the Far East. This I found more ridiculous and nonsensical than anything that happened in Wonderland.

Speaking of which, another of the indignities of the film is that it takes the name of Carroll's fantasy world away, insisting that Alice just misheard it when she came there the first time and that it's really Underland. Considering the fact that the film also takes away a lot of the wonder from said land, I suppose that's appropriate.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Wonderland (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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