Saturday, March 6, 2010

My 'Alice in Wonderland' Review (Updated)

In 1865, an Englishman named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. The novel was full of whimsy and adventure and playful poetry. Almost a century and a half later, Walt Disney released Alice in Wonderland, an adaptation of both the original novel by Carroll and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. The animated classic differed greatly from the novel, leaving out much of the story while retaining the main characters, the overall spirit of the novel, and some of the poems re-written as songs.

Now, 50 years later, Tim Burton has released another film version of the classic novels. This new film is not an exact adaptation of either the first novel or its sequel, but is much closer to Through the Looking-Glass.

(Spoiler Alert!)

The film opens in England when Alice is only a child. She tells her father all about her strange dreams involving a rabbit hole and a Mad Hatter. After her father tells her that she must be mad, but the best people are a little bit mad, the film cuts to thirteen years later when Alice is almost 19. She is attending her own engagement party and runs away once an awkward Englishman asks for her hand, following a white rabbit in a waistcoat down a hole.

After an exciting montage of Alice falling down the rabbit hole, she finds herself in the familiar room with only a table, a key, and a bottle that reads "Drink Me." After some shrinking and growing, Alice makes it outside and is greeted by the Door Mouse, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat, and some talking flowers. The next act of the film consists of the familiar Alice characters discussing about whether or not this Alice is the right Alice. Eventually, you find out that the right Alice is the one who visited Wonderland as a little girl. It has been prophesied that this real Alice will slay the Jabberwocky and restore the White Queen to her throne, which was taken by her evil sister, the Red Queen. This is where the central theme of the film comes in to play: even though there is a prophesy, can Alice control her own fate?

The rest of the film follows Alice as she infiltrates the queen's lair disguised as a girl named “Um,” retrieves the Vorpal Sword from the Bandersnatch's lair, rescues the Mad Hatter from the evil queen's clutches, and, finally, battles the dreaded Jabberwocky.

(End Spoiler Alert!)

But, enough about the story. As is usual with Tim Burton, the story does not reign supreme in Alice in Wonderland. I think that he kept the story simple so that the audience could focus its attention on the lovable characters and stimulating visuals.

That being said, the story didn't completely fall flat on its face. The film's plot was different from anything that Lewis Carroll ever wrote, but was still closer to the novels than the animated version was. It was closer in the sense that it included many of Carroll's poems and creatures that were left out of the cartoon. An aspect of the plot I loved was the deep character development bestowed upon Alice. In the animated version, you are immediately thrown into Wonderland, without a care about what happens to Alice. Burton was able to make audiences care about her. Although the plot was simple, it certainly wasn't awful.

Tim Burton is a visionary. Many believe that he simply slaps white paint on people's faces, hangs up some spiders, and calls a film good. But I actually enjoy watching his films. The settings of Alice are extraordinary. Burton has created an entirely new universe, based on Carroll's vision, that's filled with gorgeous castles, vast stretches of dead trees, and a gigantic chess set battlefield. The backgrounds of bright, peculiar flowers and an almost organic sky add an immense amount of depth to Alice. Since the plot isn't at the heart of the film, it could be debated that the visuals are at the heart, since it is clear that they are what Burton poured the majority of his efforts into.

However, the characters of Alice in Wonderland are almost as (if not more) interesting to look at as the eye candy that Tim Burton dishes up in heaping portions. My favorite character is Bayard the talking bloodhound. His CG animation is seamless and he is so cute and innocent. My next favorite is the March Hare—a disgruntled, completely insane and anthropomorphic hare who is hilarious to watch. The Mad Hatter is also a great character. With his orange hair, crazy eyes, and iconic hat, Johnny Depp works more magic on yet another role. The Hatter is funny, spontaneous, very enjoyable to watch, and is a great character in the sense that the audience is really able to feel for him. Some other great characters include Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, the Bandersnatch, the Cheshire Cat and the Blue Caterpillar--all of which were beautiful on screen and were wonderfully animated.

From the moment the opening credits start rolling, you know that Danny Elfman scored Alice in Wonderland. How, you might ask? Well the first thing you hear are pounding, unmelodious violins--a classic for Elfman. The rest of the film's score is much of the same stuff, mostly involving no real melody to hold on to. There are no songs, but at least Elfman manages to keep the score very subtle and keep the musical annoyances to a minimum. Overall, the Alice score is really unimportant since you are so busy consuming Burton's new universe with your eyes.

I wouldn't call Alice in Wonderland a masterpiece, but it is a beauty. Burton took a classic novel and did what he does best: creepify and beautify. Although the plot is incredibly simple, it is believable enough and works very well within the limits of the familiar world and characters. The characters are all magnificently animated and very entertaining. Even though the score falls flat, it remains pretty much unnoticed while you're watching the film.

Loaded with spontaneity, great acting, spot on character development, and loads of eye candy, I'll give Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland an 8 out of 10. While I didn't like it near as much as I love the classic Disney animated version (I'm a sucker for Mary Blair), Burton's Alice is actually better than I thought it would be (and is far better than his recent rendition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I especially appreciated his attention to character development. Regardless of whether or not you love Tim Burton or Lewis Carroll, I'd recommend seeing the new Alice in Wonderland.


Anonymous said...
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Unknown said...

I saw the movie on opening day at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. I think since they advertised Johnny Depp and had the Mad Hatter character on the front of the ads, I guess I expected alot out of him. Sadly, I think that it combined all of the characters he had done in movies, in to one. The movie just seemed like "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", "Edward Scissor Hands", and "Prites of the Carribean" mixed together in one character. While Alice was the main charcter, they made such a big deal about the Mad Hatter. It could have been a great movie if the he was a new character.