Alice in Wonderland
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Linda Woolverton (screenplay) Lewis Carroll (books)
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway
Burton, the genius imaginateer behind Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd along with a list of other brilliant works, teams up for the eighth time with star Johnny Depp to recreate a classic childhood fantasy in the likes of their 2005 effort Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The story is more of a sequel than a remake, combining elements and characters from Lewis Carroll’s 19th century books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It starts with Alice, now 19 and soon to be wedded to a freckled face boy who suffers from digestion issues and happens to now own her dead father’s trading business. The trouble is Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has no intentions of marrying him or living a life where everything is decided for her. When asked to accept her fate of no longer being able to accept her fate, Alice rushes away and follows the white rabbit into a whole where she returns to Wonderland although not remembering having been there before.
In Wonderland Alice is told that she must rescue Wonderland from the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) by slaying the Jabberwocky with the sword of the Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). With direction from many of the realm’s bizarre characters, including a delightfully peculiar Mad Hatter (Depp), Alice is taken on a journey where she and only she can decide the fate of herself and of Wonderland.
In other versions of Carroll’s story, the story and realm which he creates is more linked to our world, with commentary on villainous Victorian aristocracy, 19th century breakthroughs on philosophy of the self, self-absorption and even perhaps the sad end to world anglo-manifestation. Of course these messages are far above the heads of children, but make great observations for adult audiences. In Burton’s version, this dimension of the story is slightly written out in favor of a more Disney approved feministic theme about being able to make your own decisions and do what it right. It’s not total fluff though, and it’s written into the story quite nicely, with Alice’s real world reflecting her Wonderland world. Burton cleverly has characters in both worlds imitate each other and even mimics his scenes to draw the comparisons.
But what else is lost in translation is something that is uniquely valuable to Wonderland, the characters’ winded, riddling wordplay which reinforces of wonderment and enchantment of the world. The poetry is lost and even for a Burton movie all the wit and magic seems to have disappeared a little. Even the Disney cartoon seemed more like a fun acid trip than this. With Burton’s camp on board, audiences were probably expecting more fascinating creatures and puzzling elements to Wonderland, something maybe closer to but more random than Avatar’s Pandora. Creative this was not.
Without these elements Wonderland begins to look really familiar to another Disney fantasy, The Chronicles of Narnia. Both literary adaptations, recreations of fictional worlds run by talking animals and bizarre creatures that represent good and evil, have connections to present politics and both, more importantly, have child characters who are religious figures of the messiah. Both rather boring.
The saving grace of this film was supposed to be the 3D technology, but since it was shot 2D and later converted, the dimensions fall a little flat and are at times blurred. It’s still a marvel of a world, considering the Burton camp’s great knowledge of CGI technology and art direction.
Acting is on par too. Depp is wildly mad as the hatter, but doesn’t get to bite into the tongue tripping riddles which made other versions a delight. It is the type of role he is born to do, it’s just a shame his story and role in this film is less interesting than other Burton/Depp characters of past. Carter is hilarious as the Red Queen, using her immense talent for facial expression and timing to create a villain we can both hate and laugh at, all that the same time. Mia, as the lead, is completely average, but that seems to be completely okay, even if we are used to having Burton leads being these fascinating and colorful characters. Her Alice is a little duller, but the script is to blame for that more so than her. Hathaway, on the other hand is god awful and unbearable as a feathery, awkward queen who tends to float around on the screen like a damn idiot.
All in all, Wonderland is still a quite decent story. It is relatively fresh, even if it is recycled from the Mickey Mouse bin of misfit scripts. With the restrictions of PG rating and corporate Disney involvement, Burton still manages to create something worth watching, with or without trademarking it with his regular dose of weirdness. Instead of Alice in Wonderland being politically clever or artistically magnificent, it ends up tripping instead of being trippy. But a cohesive and satisfying story that is well put together and can be enjoyed by both children and sophisticated adult audiences is hard to come by with Disney, and for that, the film is a wonderful success.