Alice in Wonderland (2010) ***
Written by: Linda Woolverton (screenplay) and Lewis Carroll (books)
Produced by: Tim Burton, Joe Roth, Jennifer Todd, Suzanne Todd and Richard D. Zanuck
Directed by: Tim Burton
Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar (I don’t make this stuff up)
U.S. Release Date: March 5, 2010
There was a recently released film that was praised for striking visuals and limitless imagination, while the story left much to be desired. Many believe that it will win a Best Picture Oscar this weekend, despite being pinned up against films with great stories and amazing writing. Any guesses? In case you’re lost, I’m talking about James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Every time I see a trailer for a new Tim Burton film, there is this secure yet slightly sinking feeling that “at least the film will be pretty.” This time, Tim Burton brings another colorful adaption to the table with “Alice in Wonderland”. This time, there are a few twists on Lewis Carroll’s original books. Like I said, we know that Burton will bring a beautiful film to the screen, but is there any substance behind it?
Clear your mind of the “Alice in Wonderland” that you know from your childhood. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a 19-year old girl from London who is matched to marry a Lord named Hamish, whom she has no interest in marrying. When she finds herself coaxed into a surprise engagement party, where Hamish will propose in front of a crowd of hundreds, Alice sees a “rabbit in a waistcoat” and decides to follow him down the rabbit hole that we all know so well.
The events immediately following go as you remember, shrinking drink and growing cake, etc. As soon as Alice passes through that door, everything is a little different. All the characters that Alice meets insist that they have met her before. As it becomes clearer that Alice has been to this world before (now called Underland, as opposed to Wonderland), Alice is confronted with a mission; she must work with her cast of haggard characters to dethrone the big-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) from her tyrannous reign and restore power back to the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
Along the way, Alice meets all the characters that we are familiar with: Absalom (a talking, hookah-smoking caterpillar), the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen, the White Queen, the horrible Jabberwocky and a host of talking animals. How they all interact, however, is a bit of a departure from any “Alice” adaptation so far.
So, to answer a question posed earlier, does Burton’s loose adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” hold up? Is the film more than just a pretty face? In short, yes. Burton gets by with a pass in the sense that the film is a fairy tale. He is retelling a canonized story that the world is very familiar with. Where Burton succeeds is in the originality of the adaptation. Sure, Lewis Carroll may be on full spin in his grave right now, but the retelling was refreshing. The film tells a very simple story with simple symbolism that all audiences can understand on different levels.
A disappointment in the script was the lack of poetry, play on words and overall fantasy that the original story so successfully employs. All of the characters’ dialogue plays pretty straight. Maybe it is a reference to the characters living in a darker world ruled by the Red Queen, but I wish I could have experienced the sing-songy lines that I remember from my childhood.
Of course, as expected, the visual aspect of this film is undeniably Burton. This type of story suites Burton’s aesthetic, as Carroll’s original story was always a littler darker than the Disney adaptation that we have all seen. From the twisty trees and quirky set pieces to all of the great looking characters (most notably the Red Queen), this movie is a tightly put together visual package that definitely will not disappoint Burton loyalists.
The acting performances, on the whole, were great. I am not the biggest Helena Bonham Carter fan, as she usually plays her parts way over the top and tends to “cheese it up.” As the Red Queen, Carter steals nearly every scene she is a part of. Much of the marketing campaign has been dedicated to Johnny Depp and his role as the Mad Hatter. While Depp is good, the part definitely takes a back seat to other cast members. Like the script overall, I would have really liked to see more out of the Mad Hatter as his original speaking parts are the most poetic and clever of all the characters.
At the bottom line, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” is a simply told fairy tale adaptation with a very strong visual aesthetic. The film features a strong ensemble cast all around, and I could not have asked for much more out of the performances. If you are a strict Lewis Carroll enthusiast, Burton’s take may rub you the wrong way, but most audiences will find “Alice in Wonderland” to be a great cinematic event experience.