Sunday, March 07, 2010
I was never a fan of the original "Alice in Wonderland." It wasn't as psychedelic as "Fantasia," but it still never fit my perception of what Disney animation was supposed to look like. I suppose I was too busy looking for the singing princess and the forest-animal companions to appreciate the Cheshire Cat. But when I heard that Tim Burton had decided to remake the old classic, I began to rethink my prejudices toward the strange tale. I thought Burton's colorful, twisted vision just might be a good fit. Taking a chance on the PG-rating, I decided to take my kids, with a couple of their friends to a 3D showing of the film-- and promptly discovered that I am not a fan of 3D. But more on that in a minute. Opting for a continuation of the original story, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland takes place well after Alice's original trip down the rabbit hole. Now a young woman of 19, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is still haunted by dreams of her trip to Underland as a child. Convinced she is suffering delusions, Alice is often sleep deprived and somewhat sickly. But that doesn't stop the unwanted attention from a rich suitor who corners Alice in front of a crowd of high-society types as he proposes marriage. Seeking a distraction from her predicament, Alice chases after a white rabbit she has seen lurking on the fringes of the party she is attending. And just as she did when she was a little girl, Alice falls down the rabbit hole into another world. Soon after she arrives in Underland Alice discovers that the world's inhabitants have been awaiting her return because it has been foretold that Alice will slay the Jabberwocky and defeat the Red Queen once and for all. Alice is quick to assure the inhabitants of Underland that she is not "that" Alice but she is swept up in the battle between the White and Red Queens against her will. The story is really very straightforward. The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) is tyrant who repeatedly reassures herself that it's better to be feared than loved and rules accordingly. Fond of yelling "off with their head!" she is quick to take offense at any slight and is rather sensitive when it comes to her own very, very large head. The White Queen (Anne Hathaway) is the benevolent ruler who vows to never hurt a living creature and seeks a champion to fight for her and return the kingdom to her control. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp--looking like a deranged Elijah Wood) is the narrator of the film in a sense as we learn what happened between the two Queens through his eyes. But it's tough to grab a hold of the narrative when the voice that delivers it often mutters incoherently. And that's ultimately the problem with Burton's film. Despite a simple plot, the film still darts here and there. The 3D, rather than enhancing the film, adds to the sense of confusion and creatures shoot across the screen in a headache inducing blur. The characters have very distinct characteristics superficially (Anne Hathaway is a hoot as the goth White Queen and seems to have a great deal of fun twirling her way through all her scenes) but are completely lacking in any kind of backstory. We end up knowing more about a bloodhound named Bayard than we ever do about The Mad Hatter. I'm reminded of a description I read about "Avatar" that seems accurate to describe "Alice in Wonderland;" it's a supermodel of a movie: beautiful but not deep. "Alice" is recognizably a Tim Burton film. Stylistically it's hard to fault and it's far less graphic than bloodier films like "Sleepy Hollow;" though some kids might find the loud, charging animals to be alarming (my kids loved it). I enjoyed this version of "Alice in Wonderland" more than the original, but it's hard not to wonder why Burton opted for another remake when his own films have had far more depth to them. As it stands right now, his films seem like little more than vehicles for Johnny Depp to try on new costumes and adopt even stranger speech patterns. Whether you enjoy "Alice" or not will likely depend on what you expect to get out of it. If you're content with a visual spectacle, you won't be disappointed (though I think the 3D is entirely unnecessary). But don't come into the film with high expectations of plot or character development. That's not what "this" Alice is all about.