Alice in Wonderland

March 9, 2010 by  

I was excited to hear that Tim Burton was going to be taking on a project to remake/adapt “Alice in Wonderland”. After seeing the classic Disney film from 1951, the trippy imagery and odyssey-like approach to the narrative was intriguing to be given to someone like Burton. The original texts, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”, were somewhat compressed into the 1951 Disney film.

In this adaptation, it’s the same. But, it’s different, too. Disney is a very different company than it was back then, and takes fewer chances. This proved to be a hindrance for Burton, as the imagery is not scary or enticing or provacative. It’s merely…colorful, and ordinary.

It starts with Alice being a little girl disturbed by dreams, and thinking she’s “half-mad”. Her father assures her she is mad, completely bonkers. Then, he adds, “the best people are.”

Instead of getting right into the rabbit hole, we’re taken 13 years into the future where Alice is grown up (and quite the little beauty) and her father has died. Her mother wants her to marry into royalty, but she doesn’t love the man she’s going to marry. At this point, it’s as if somehow Jane Austin got a hold of Lewis Carroll and dismantled his plot. But Burton finally gets the story going and the young adult Alice discovers a rabbit running around, and follows it into the rabbit hole.

In this film, she’s been here before. She’s recognized as “Alice”, but the wrong Alice. Nothing’s mentioned about why that is, but the obvious reason is that she’s grown up. She doesn’t believe the world exists, but only in her mind. She’s dreamt it up. But now, she’s faced with the reality that she’s stuck there. She tries to pinch herself, but she does not wake up. She meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and she’s taken to see Absolem the Caterpillar, and he is asked if this is the right Alice. “Not hardly,” he replies. Everyone is a bit disenchanted but they still want to believe that this Alice can save them from the Red Queen who has taken over Underland.

She then visits the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who looks forlorn, and talks about something called Frabjous Day, in which Alice will defeat the Jabberwocky with the Vorpal Sword. Alice doesn’t understand why she’s been chosen for this, and doesn’t want to take part because she doesn’t believe in hurting any living creature.

But the Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter) is a brutal overlord, and has banished her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Everyone is miserable, and they’re looking to Alice to save them all.

The plot resembles what we’ve come to know the story of Alice less and less as it unravels. While the performances by Depp and Bonham-Carter are very good and entertaining, the climax of this film seems as though it was taken from “The Chronicles of Narnia” rather than “Alice in Wonderland”. And, this film hardly takes risks.

It lacks the enchanting and refreshing look and feel of the 1951 film. All of the images are there, but they’re bland. I always liked the Chesire Cat–even here, he seems like he was taken from a rejected Pixar film. Crispin Glover, who plays the Knave of Hearts, is also wasted here. He’s probably one of the most interesting and strange Hollywood actors we have, and he’s reduced to a very minimal role, sporting a very fakey British accent.

I’m not sure if Burton didn’t know what to do with this project, or he had to follow a strict code given by Disney studios. I’d like to think that Burton hasn’t lost it, since I found “Sweeney Todd” to be a well done adaptation; but here, everything seems stationary.

It felt, overall, like a kid’s movie. I realize it was geared toward kids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a kid’s movie. Films like “The Incredibles”, “Up”, “Shrek”–all are “kid’s movies” but they’re also family movies. There are very few things that an adult would find entertaining in this film.

Also, the 3-D is somewhat flimsy. While in some parts it is impressive, the sequences of Alice falling through the rabbit hole are chaotic and it’s hard to follow the 3-D animations because it’s unfocused.

The film is not a total waste, but it’s a disappointment given the talent that was attached to working on it. It’s not a waste of time, but it’s not something you absolutely must see.

This trip to Wonderland can be skipped, and you won’t feel like you’re missing the tea party.

My rating: :?

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