Title: Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover and Alice Mia Wasikowska
Written by: Linda Woolverton based on Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
I miss the days when fantasy movies were real. I know that sounds like a contradiction of sorts, because by nature, fantasy is not real. It’s imagination running wild. What I’m referring to is that I miss the days when fantasy filmmakers actually went through the trouble of building sets to make their films, in this way making their fantasy world more tangible, and in a way real. I miss the days when to make whatever fantastical creature the script called for they would resort to puppets or animatronics. Even stop motion animation felt more tangible then computer generated images. But as they say, times are a changing; and I have to learn (reluctantly so) to adapt to that change. I guess. Plus, I’m sure studios are resorting to movies dominated by computer animation for monetary reasons. It must be a hell of a lot cheaper to build a set on a computer, than it is to build it for real. Still, I miss that level of “reality” in fantasy films. Films like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland sometimes make me feel disconnected from them. But whatever, I’m not going to bitch and moan about that, because in a strange way, computer animation is a great way to go for films like this one. I just wish there was more of balance. Im of the mind that not every single little frame of the movie has to be computer animated! There should be a balance. My favorite fx movies are those that use computer animation only when its absolutely needed. Whenever its used excessively, it simply feels like lazy filmmaking to me.
In Alice in Wonderland everything save for the actors is completely computer animated, and it shows. Granted, there is artistry involved in the animation, the film and its visuals are filled in every corner with color and detail, and it is dazzling to look at (specially with those nifty 3-D glasses) but still, I couldn’t help the feeling of detachment from the film. This feeling I’m sure was not only due to the films computer animated nature. I’m thinking it also has to do with the way the story was told. Tim Burton has said that he didn’t want Alice in Wonderland to feel as if Alice was simply going from one weird character to the next. That he wanted to make a movie that we could connect with. Sadly, in my opinion, he did the exact opposite of that! The way I saw it, Burton made a very disjointed film. It did feel as if Alice was jumping from one weird character to the next, from one bizarre situation to the next, without a sense of cohesiveness to the proceedings. In my opinion, the movie didn’t flow. It felt to me like Alice just went from one crazy character through the next without any character development, without knowing exactly what makes her tick. It had a glimpse of character development in one scene where Alice realizes that she is dreaming, she knows this is all happening in her head, but that moment is brief. In my opinion, there should have been more introspective moments like that one in a movie that happens mostly inside of a characters mind.
I guess my main gripe with this movie was that it felt cold and detached. But did I enjoy any other aspects the film? Well, Tim Burton is an artist, and as such, he pays special attention to the artistic elements of the film, the visuals. Once you watch this movie you definitely feel like you are in Tim Burton territory. That gothic nature to Tim Burton’s films is there with the crooked trees and the strange dark characters, so I enjoyed that familiar Tim Burton Universe feel. I also dug Johnny Depp, who has become a permanent fixture in Burton’s cinematic escapades. Depp is known for playing quirky, off beat characters in Burton’s films and The Mad Hatter is a welcome addition to Depp’s weird characters file. He is the one thing that gives the film a bit of emotion. Helena Bonham Carter was perfectly cast as the Red Queen, she adds many funny moments to the movie specially whenever she screams “of with his head!”
This time around, Wonderland, or Underland as it is referred to on this movie is a bit darker then the one we might remember from previous Alice in Wonderland movies because this film shows us an underland that’s been ravaged by the evil government of the Red Queen. Everyone is poor, suffering, the houses are burned down and basically, Underland is falling apart. Except for the Red Queens castle of course which is filled with servants and luxuries. In this way, the film is actually very subversive in nature. I’m surprised at just how many subversively themed movies are coming out lately (check out my review of Shutter Island to see what I’m talking about) and Burtons Alice in Wonderland can be counted amongst those films that display a hatred for the government and the way things are being handled by it. Mad Hatter and his friends are all a gang of rebels who play at being mad, so the authorities won’t harm them. “Never mind him, he is mad” the Red Queen says at one point not realizing the Mad Hatter and his friends are the ones she should be fearing the most. It’s a common thing to show the subversive rebellious character as being “mad” and at the same time very sane…again, read my review for Scorcece’s Shutter Island (2010) or Falling Down (1993) to see what I mean.
The Mad Hatter, leader of the revolution
Also, there was a scene that I found pretty edgy thematically, and its one when The Mad Hatter actually suggests that Alice should kill the evil Red Queen. I thought that was a pretty bold statement from Burton right there. Kill the Queen, replace her with the good queen, and let the kingdom be happy and merry again. Normally, I warm up to films of this nature cause I like subversive films, the ones that go against “big brother” and all that. And I did enjoy the themes Alice in Wonderland was playing with, but I still couldn’t warm up to the film itself. Things got worse as the movie progressed into a predictable third act with Alice going up against the Red Queen and her evil dragon. I was kind of bored by this point. To me even though this movie was interesting visually, it was just a movie going by the numbers from one plot point to the next, without reaching out to the audience for some emotional connection. I didn’t really dig that. Movie directors need to remember that when a movie is on, they have the audience’s full attention and that this is the moment which they need to use to connect with them. I didn’t feel this so much with Alice in Wonderland.
One of the big questions with this movie is: Is it too scary for kids? Because after all, this is a Disney movie, and Lewis Carroll's book is a childrens book. My answer to that question is that Lewis Carroll's Wonderland stories were always dark and strange to begin with. They were trippy from the get go. So if you couldnt take Lewis Carroll's books, chances are, you'll probably find this one too scary for kids. Me? I thought it was weird and strange, but not all that scary. The one scene that I thought went a little too far for a childrens movie is one scene in which Alice has to cross a body of water to reach the Red Queen's castle, and the body of water is filled decapitated floating heads. Which Alice begins to walk on in order to get to the Queens castle. But again, Alice in Wonderland was always a surreal trippy experience and this film does hold true to the original book in that sense.
From a visual standpoint, the movie is pure eye candy. The whole 3-D experience has really taken off now. It’s making Hollywood more millions then ever this time around because they have actually perfected the whole 3-D thing. Many people out there think that 3-D is a gimmick, and it is, but I’m of the opinion that 3-D works wonders on certain kinds of films. Like fantasy films for example, or sci-fi, or simply films in which special effects take center stage. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, it’s an experience. 3-D isn’t a new thing, it’s been around since 1890! It took off with horror films during the 50s, mainly Vincent Price horror movies like House of Wax. 3-D has always been around in one form or another, but only now has it reached its full potential in theaters. It doesn’t give you a headache, the glasses give the images a depth that you don’t get when you are watching a regular film and it’s a trippy fun experience. This is really the only way in which the film worked for me. Its not Burtons worst film (Planet of the Apes still holds that place, and I don’t think it will ever loose it) but it isn’t his best either.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5