Saturday, March 6, 2010

Journey Down The Rabbit Hole, Or Not

Movie Review
Alice in Wonderland (2010)

In its PG rating of "Alice in Wonderland," the MPAA had a humorously specific gripe about the smoking caterpillar but nothing about the moat of severed heads, other decapitations and frequently gouged-out eyes. This isn't the 1951 animated Disney version I remember, but rather, a more serious take on Lewis Carroll's original story. Tim Burton's 3-D, CGI-infused newly adapted trip into the rabbit hole is an acid trip of disproportions from Alice being either too large or small for her environment to the bulbous largeness of the Red Queen's forehead. Maybe it's because Burton's screenwriter Linda Woolverton ("Beauty and the Beast") tasked herself to combining elements of both "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" creating a leaden, cliché and sadly Disney-fied journey that could've and should've been a whole lot better. The only mark of Tim Burton ("Sweeney Todd," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") on this one is a fantastic score from Danny Elfman that is the bold highlight along with Burton's distinctive visual style. Here, though, the dimming of 3-D outweighs its benefits and becomes unnecessary aside from enhancing Alice's initial tumble into the rabbit hole.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska of HBO's "In Treatment") is not a little girl anymore, but rather, a 19-year-old woman about to get married off to some nitwit. In her sexual frustration, she flees the proposal and follows the White Rabbit (voice of Michael Sheen) that had caught her eye earlier. Played with stern sensuality and feminist strength by Wasikowska, Alice feels as if she's been to Wonderland once before, and it's because she actually has. It wasn't just a dream. Even though Alice's memories of her first visit are fuzzy, her permeating feeling of deja vu and her affirmation of the fact that it's only a dream strips her of any sense of curiosity or exploration. She is a character we're meant to be deeply invested in, but if it looks as if she's not even affected by the fantastical and impossible happenings around her, then we certainly aren't going to be affected much either. It becomes frustratingly impersonal even when we come across the Cheshire Cat (voice of Stephen Fry), Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas) and yes, that hookah-smoking caterpillar (voice of Alan Rickman). Fry and Rickman's voice talents are sly, mysterious and great.

Wonderland has the look of a post-apocalyptic something or other, and it's thanks to an ever-waging war between the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). The two queens are interesting characters with the White Queen's hands constantly afloat out to her side above her shoulders and the Red Queen always spouting out angrily, "Off with his head!" Bonham Carter is fabulous and funny and has some of the movie's best lines and scenes. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), a bizarre, wacky, red-headed loony, somehow sparks a rebellion against the Red Queen. Depp as the Hatter had me cringing from an ever-shifting accent that was an unpleasant combination of Sweeney Todd and Jack Sparrow. The problem with the Mad Hatter is that, at least in the trailer, he was made out to be a pivotal character, but once in action you realize there's not much to him. He's not captivating and holds no interesting background. He's just, well, weird.

With a seemingly adult appeal, this adaptation lacks fun and nonsense. In a fantasy land that makes little to no sense, what happens inside it turns out to make a little too much sense and becomes too straightforward for its own good. There's no real imagination in the narrative as it's all stuffed into the visuals instead of the story arc. The wonderment and excitement is absent, and it proceeds further and further along the line of convention. The White Queen is in need of what she refers to as a champion, and Alice is the chosen one. Alice isn't just confounded by her role in Wonderland, she just seems really annoyed. There's a spark of discovery in not knowing exactly why the slinky and conniving Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover) and his army of cards is looking for Alice, but then we find out the reason.

Then enters the Jabberwocky. It was at that moment when I knew this trip to Wonderland needed to be done. An overwrought, big battle finale simply allowed room for more unfortunate Disney-ification. Alice makes for a nice heroine, but when it comes down to it, the lack of emotional attachment and an apparent disconnect between Wonderland and Alice's own world makes for the first Burton flop in a while. The major issue with "Alice in Wonderland" is it being completely devoid of any allegorical resonance. What did Alice learn after climbing back out of the rabbit hole? What had she gained? What did the experience do for her? Did it really only teach her how to tell people off? If that's all, then what's the point in remembering?

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you. Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors, and I had high hopes for "Alice in Wonderland". I was one of those freaks who went to the midnight show dressed up. I was disappointed to say the least. The movie lacked any significance in its plot and the one-dimensional characters were lost in a world of 3-D visuals. I felt no emotional connection to any character and felt nothing when I left the theater other than the emptiness in my pocket where ten dollars used to be. At the beginning it seemed that the message was going to be "Believe in your dreams, no matter how bizarre and impossible they may seem." However by the end, the message I got was "Dreams are only dreams and they can't affect you in any way." The only thing I have to say about Tim Burton on this one is "Off with his head!"