Review: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland | Tim Burton, 2010

The combination of Tim Burton’s imagination and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” felt like a match made in heaven. I mean, who else could be better to re-tell the story of a girl that falls through a rabbit hole and gets into all kinds of quirky adventures in a trippy world. So, when it was finally announced that he would take on the story, I was excited. And that excitement carried over until the day I watched it, despite some of the negative things I heard about it.  In the end Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland is not quite the heavenly experience that I expected, but it is still a very good film.

One of the biggest flaws of the film that keeps it from being something of a masterpiece is the script. First, this is sort of a sequel. Here Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is about 19 years old and is expected to get married to this guy who, as one expect is not the guy for her. At her surprise engagement party, she sees a white rabbit, and she chases him down a hole, which takes her to Underland. Here, everyone welcomes her as if she had been there before, but of course, she doesn’t remember. It turns out that they were looking for her because a prophecy says that she will bring peace by defeating the bigheaded Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). She says she is not the right Alice, but throughout the film she realizes that she is and that it is her destiny to liberate the world that she had known since she was a child.

So, yeah that’s what this is about. From what I remember, in the other versions of the story Alice goes there, learns her lesson and returns. But since this is a Disney movie released in 2010, it has to have a plot that will be solved in a battle.

Another problem with the film is, oddly, Burton’s direction. It is not bad, but it feels like he’s just going through the motions. His work here is very pedestrian when compared to, say, Ed Wood, Big Fish, and Sweeney Todd. Also, he has come to rely too much on computers. The opening scene that takes place in the real world is gorgeous. But once Alice enters Wonderland, it is a beautiful place, but it doesn’t feel magical. It might have been because he was forced to work this way, but real sets should have been used, and that would have been even better. One more quarrel: the Futterwacken…the only logical reason that I can think of for this being here is to give kids something to talk about and something to show on the Disney Channel. Otherwise, WTF?!

Like I said, despite a lack of magic, Wonderland is a beautifully designed place, as is the rest of the movie. Despite his shortcomings in handling what is going on in the screen, the crafts are as good as any other Burton film. From the moment the movie begins, Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography shines (mostly in the real world scenes), and the costumes are breath taking. They are, in fact, early front-runner for being my favorite costumes of the decade. Surely Colleen Atwood must be the best costume designer working today. The sets by Stefan Dechant are equally beautiful. The visual effects seem cartoonish, but they fit within the context of the film. And then there’s Danny Elfman’s score, which is your typical Elfman/Burton score, meaning I need to listen to it on its own to judge it.

As for the performances, they are quite good. Wasikowska is fantastic as Alice. I can’t wait to see where her career goes from here. Bonham Carter delivers despite my initial doubts. Johnny Depp is also good as the Mad Hatter, but his portrayal was a tad too dark. Just look up what his inspirations were for this, and you’ll understand. Anne Hathaway is not given much to do, but she looks pretty and that is all that matters for the role of the White Queen. Matt Lucas is a ton of fun as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Besides this, there are a ton of excellent voice performances from the likes of Stephen Fry and Timothy Spall, but Alan Rickman takes the cake as the caterpillar. I mean who would have been better at voicing a hookah-smoking caterpillar?

Although it didn’t live up to my extremely high expectations, and despite its huge flaws Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland still manages to come up on top. This is mostly thanks to the performances and the crafts of the film. Burton has seen better days, but this shows that he might have what it takes to give us a couple more great movies.


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