Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

I have read many a scathing review of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in the few days the film has been in theaters. I am shocked. I saw it at a midnight showing in LA with my best friend and my sister. We all thoroughly enjoyed the film. While I understand some people's grievances with the film, I still thought it was a delightful adventure that I could watch again and again. I just want to warn you that this review is going to be pretty long to address the many things people complained about that I disagreed with.

Alice is now 19 years old and faces many pressures put upon her by society and her family. When an undesirable, but rich man/boy proposes to her, she follows a white rabbit down the hole once again into Wonderland. Its inhabitants are in constant fear of the Bloody Red Queen Iracebeth and need Alice to be their champion to overthrow her in favor of her sister, the White Queen Mirana. Alice rejects the idea altogether and continues to journey through Wonderland. The Red Queen hears of her arrival and sends orders to capture her. Will Alice find the courage to defeat save Wonderland before it's too late?

I seriously love this movie. I haven't had so much fun in a movie theater in a while (except The Crazies, but I will save it for a different post.) I emphasize that this film is not a remake of Alice in Wonderland, but a sequel of the Disney cartoon and a reimagining at the same time. I think people are so emotionally invested in the book and different versions that they have seen before that when someone comes out with something different, they don't like it. I liked seeing an older Alice as a strong female character. The Joseph Campbell hero journey format tied together disparate and random incidents in the Wonderland novels so that they were linear and easy to follow. This is needed in a Disney movie that kids need to understand and like in order to make money. It would probably be just another complaint of the naysayers if it didn't have a linear story.

The look of the film is absolutely beautiful. Tim Burton pulls away from his typical black and white palate to the vibrant and beautiful colors that saturate Wonderland. It's a stark contrast to the muted grey and blue hues of Victorian England, present in the start and finish of the film. Within Wonderland, there are also contrasting color palates: the brilliant white of the White Queen's domain and the gothic red and black of the Red Queen's domain.

I know that lots of people have issue with the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen represented in one person. I have no problem with this whatsoever. I really don't know why so many people complain about this, except that they're hardcore book purists. The original Disney cartoon did exactly the same thing. This film is a continuation of the cartoon, so it really wouldn't have made sense to change it at this point. She was a wonderfully portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter. Unlike the Disney film (where the King secretly pardons people behind the Queen's back), the fear inspired by her is real. Her moat is full of the severed heads of her victims (which Alice uses as stepping stones at one point to get to the castle). Beheadings are obviously not a rare occurance. The Red Queen is foul tempered, arrogant, and pretty hilarious. One of her many flaws is that she is easily manipulated by flattery, but may turn on the flatterer in a second.

Anne Hathaway had a small, but effective role as the White Queen. I have never really seen the character in any Alice in Wonderland movie, but I loved her. She had a facade of sweetness and light with an undertone of madness. Even though she is the lesser of the two evils and Wonderland flourished under her rule, it's obvious that she's related to the Red Queen. I liked that the two sisters still argued over petty things like head size in the midst of their battle for control of Wonderland. That's what sisters do. I should know. Their conflict culminates when they bring their armies together and have their champions battle it out. I loved that the White Queen's army was compiled of chess pieces while the Red Queen's army was compiled of playing cards. The card soldiers looked really cool and did not in any way resemble Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars soldiers. These soldiers do not look like these or this one.

Johnny Depp is just awesome as the Mad Hatter. I was afraid that Johnny Depp would outshine Alice and take over the movie because of his prominence in the trailers. I guess it was just a marketing choice to sell the movie with a big name. Although the Hatter does look a little weird (and what character played by him doesn't?), he was one of my favorite characters. He is actually crazy. He literally had dissociative identity disorder (also known as multiple personality disorder). In all the other versions of Alice, the Mad Hatter has merely been goofy. Johnny Depp's take on the character is alternately characterized by wide-eyed innocence and scary, cynical anger. In his scarier alternate personality, there is definitely the possibility that he might really hurt someone if left unchecked. Johnny Depp acted very well and gave the Mad Hatter dimensions deeper than a goofy fool.

Overall, the entire cast worked very well together. They all contributed to making Wonderland more than a mishmash of shallow characters. Mia Wasikowska blended in seamlessly with the more famous and experienced actors.

Danny Elfman's score fit perfectly with the movie. There are some moments of reminiscence of other scores, such as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. However, the score succeeds in being a unique work. The music is diverse, ranging from driving, fast rhythms to beautiful, haunting melodies. You can listen to clips of the score here. I didn't really like the Avril Lavigne song that played during the end credits. It was obviously there to try to get people to buy the Almost Alice CD that has other pop Alice-inspired songs on it, but I have literally no interest in it.

I had been waiting for Alice in Wonderland for almost a year and I wasn't disappointed. I am also happy that it made about $116 million in its first weekend, outselling Avatar. I highly recommend this movie to children and adults alike.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins


vvb32 reads said...

Yay! Great to hear a good review! I can't wait to see the visuals and I like the fact that Alice is older. And thanks for being my first Alice challenge contestant!

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

Great review! I loved the movie too!

Sullivan McPig said...

Great review indeed! I agree with everything you say

Misty said...

I really need to see this. I am disappointed with myself that I haven't yet; this very thorough review makes me want to see it more.