Alice in Wonderland
This has to be one of this year’s most highly anticipated cinematic releases. Even before the majority of media got to see it, there has been a lot of controversy on the web. From some intense and rather scathing reviews through to the threat from several key European cinema chains to boycott the release of Alice due to the short window planned by Disney between cinematic and DVD release dates. So it was somewhat hard to go into this film with little or no expectations. (Now I should point out that I watched this film in 3D on the Imax screen.)
So for those who don’t know the story here’s the basic premise. When faced with a marriage proposal from somewhat of an uncomfortably weird suitor, 19-year-old Alice (Wasikowski) runs off into the woods to find solace and ponder her future. In the process of chasing down a strangely familiar white rabbit Alice finds herself falling down a hole and into a strange new whimsical world. As she first encounters a collection of impossible and yet endearing characters such as the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and of course, the Mad Hatter, Alice embarks on a fantastical journey to find her true destiny and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.
I went into this movie with the full understanding that it’s based on a kid’s book, so the story is not a strong one, which can also be said of the Narnia films. Alice in Wonderland is very focused on the magical and alluring characters set amidst the backdrop of this mysterious and intriguing Wonderland. I felt that overall Tim Burton has achieved visual symphony for the senses featuring spectacular animation paired with perfect vocal and physical characterization.
Now towards the middle of the film Alice begins to seem somewhat flat and starts to fade into the background. Particularly when surrounded by such magical characters Cheshire Cat. However I think this was done on purpose to match the inner journey that Alice is taking as she really does not know who she is, where she is or even what she must do. As the plot moves briskly towards the large final battle, Alice comes alive in the realization of her true destiny and the understanding of why this place and these people seem so familiar. As for the reviewer who claims she looks less like a heroine and more like she’s on heroin, well as I said before I think she was meant to seem pale and ghostly as she is only a fraction of herself until that key point of self re-discovery.
Alice in Wonderland also delivers some wonderful performances from a stellar cast, and even though Johnny Depp still delivers a solid performance, his performance is outshone by several of the other cast. Helena Bonham Carter’s Queen of Hearts is delightfully evil and dysfunctionally insecure, while Anne Hathaway’s White Queen is a delicate blend of sophistication built upon the melted blend of simplicity and space-cadet-ism. (It has become widely known that Tim Burton based the style of this character on UK cooking show host Nigella Lawson.)
But it is the vocalized CGI characters that really shine in this film such as Matt Lucas in the roles of Tweddle Dee and Tweddle Dum. This comes from the perfect blend of great CGI imagery with the timing of a comedic genius. This also comes across brilliantly in the character of Cheshire Cat. Voiced by Stephen Fry, Cheshire cat is unsettlingly hypnotic and oh so cool. The animation team has done a wonderful job realizing the big shimmering pool like eyes and indefinably wide and toothy smile. The Cheshire Cat is by far my favourite character.
Compared to Tim Burton’s previous films Alice in Wonderland is really not as dark as you would expect, despite the occasional visually intimidating moments with some of the villainous monsters such as the Bandersnatch and the Jaberwocky. Perhaps this is in part due to the constant building and dropping score by the somewhat overused Danny Elfmann.
Considering that the Lewis Carroll book that this is based on reads more as a series of events and characters, Burton has done a solid job piecing it all together into a mostly flowing storyline in a way that no other film adaptation has yet to achieve. The strong leaning on Alice’s emotional journey towards self realization connects the parts and keeps you following as you are hit with an amazing palette of characters throughout the 108 minutes.
It’s not perfect, but it is enjoyable and in my view best enjoyed on the big screen in 3D.
Reviewed by: Jon E Clist
Releases: 4th March 2010
Rating: PG Frightening Fantasy Scenes & Violence
Duration: 108 minutes
Genre: Animated Kids
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Stephen Fry, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Alan Rickman, Anne Hathaway and Mia Wasikowski
Director: Tim Burton