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Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Movie Reviews

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Despite its wild imagery and manic performances, Burton’s non-canon sequel to Carol’s stories lacks the author’s pathological magic.

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Nineteen-year old Alice Kingsleigh has never fit in with modern society, and has recently been tormented by dreams of strange creatures in even stranger lands.  Such things are most unfashionable in the Victorian Era, and following the death of her beloved father, she soon finds herself betrothed to the inheritor of his assets, the young Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) whom she has no interest in.  Not long after Hamish proposes does a mysterious white rabbit show up, dressed in fancy clothes, and decides to follow him down a mysterious hole…

Tim Burton’s visionary take on Lewis Carol’s Alice In Wonderland takes place ten years after the events in the books, and concerns Alice needing to find her muchness again.  Though there are a lot of memorable characters in the movie from the books, only a select few actually take the stage and become integral to this non-canon follow-up to the original stories.  It isn’t long before she runs into the old gang, including the Hatter, the Hare, the Mouse, the Cheshire Cat and several others who will aid her (more or less) as she journeys into the depths of Underland?  Yes, you read that correctly right, as the film renames Wonderland under the guise that our heroine misheard during her original visit as a child.  This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to liberties that have unmagicked the magic.

Tim Burton peppers his vision with actors he is familiar with, and his descent is headlined by his two favorite muses, Johnny Depp as The Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen.  Depp’s Mad Hatter was well done, although his attempts to humanize the character won’t sit well with some of the material’s most intense fans (and what’s up with the Scottish accent?).  Carter’s The Red Queen (now Iracebeth of Crims) does an expert job playing crazy, although attempts to affect audience sympathy by humanizing her madness was in stark contrast to her forcible use of creatures to control the populace.

Mia Wasikowska as the titular Alice does a fine, if somewhat predictable job as the outside force in this new Wonderland.  The White Queen (now Mirana of Marmoreal) played by Anne Hathaway was sweet, but modified significantly from her literary origins, where she served as the counterbalance to the Red Queen’s insanity (though was just as mad).  Absolem the caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) speaks condescendingly toward Alice, peppering his lines with “stupid girl” throughout, which seem appropriate given the actor playing him.  Tweedledee and Tweedledum played by Matt Lucas (Little Britain), save for Rickman’s caterpillar, are quite possibly the best characters of the movie simply because they act just a precisely one would expect someone from this world to act; strange, funny and completely unpredictable.

There where plenty more characters for fans to rediscover, including the Cards and the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) who, like the caterpillar, comes off as more demented than outright mystically deranged.  The rest of the cast is populated with characters who are equally-famous for their ability to help bring Burton’s vision to life, and I would sincerely recommend staying through the credits to pick them all out (and yes, that was Crispin Glover).

While there’s no questioning the talent and imagination that’s happening onscreen, it’s somewhat deflating to see much of the original story’s unique magic, mystery, and perverse madness drastically modified to conform to Burton’s own.  The world is down graded in blasphemous mundane realism from the dreamlike, drug tripping bizarre wonderland that all readers of the books love. Much like his most recent efforts, the result looks and feels more like Burton-by-numbers than genuine inventiveness.  His overuse of dead, twisted trees and gothic imagery (a half-destroyed windmill looks like it was pasted in from Sleepy Hollow) will be immediately familiar to fans of his work, as will the brown undertones and other visual bits sprinkled throughout.

His point of inspiration seems to American Mcgee’s Alice videogame from 2000 that even had a Red Queen’s Castle that looked remarkably similar to the one if the movie, yet managed to retain an essence of Carol’s work that Burton’s can’t match.  Everything from his set designs, choice of actors (Depp and Carter), and even a forgettable score by Danny Elfman all point to a director on auto-pilot, and feels every bit the assembled product it no doubt is.

With so much focus on transforming the cinematic experience into the third-dimension, it’s no surprise to see this film presented in Disney Digital 3-D, which really does give the impression of stepping through the looking glass (i.e. 3-D glasses) and into Burton’s somewhat ‘unique’ version of Wonderland.  All punning aside, it felt good to experience the film in 3-D, and I would sincerely recommend seeing it that way if possible.

This movie should rightfully be referred to as Tim Burton’s Alice and Wonderland, as the famed director seems to take only surface inspiration from Lewis Carol’s original stories, effectively tossing out their crazed pathos and subtlety, and substitutes them with his own brand of gothic imagery and (by this time) predictable nature.  An anti-climatic battle scene towards the end is a baffling addition, and viewers who come in with little knowledge of the Carol’s stories (or even Disney’s original animated film) may enjoy the look and wild performances (especially Alan Rickman’s Caterpillar and Michael Sheen’s Cheshire Cat), but those who are more intimate with the originals will probably be disappointed.

About the Author: Paul Lyon