Down with the bloody Red Queen! Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland (opening in theatres today) is one of the best live-action releases from Walt Disney Pictures in years. This dark, grown-up ‘Alice’, a hybrid sequel/retelling of the stories by Lewis Carroll, is a natural blockbuster with possible franchise potential for Disney. And this comes from someone who is decidedly not a fan of Burton’s previous works.
Cast members Mia Wasikowska (Alice), Johnny Depp (the Mad Hatter), and Helena Bonham Carter (the Red Queen) do well in particular, adding depth to each of their characters. Anne Hathaway gets surprisingly little screen time as the kooky White Queen, probably a good thing story-wise.
Take Depp. His Mad Hatter is not the silly, goofy hatter from Walt Disney’s 1951 animated Alice in Wonderland or from the illustrations accompanying the original books. This Mad Hatter is insane, presumably from inhaling all those mercury vapors, coupled with losing his ability to ply his trade for his favorite patron, the White Queen. He exhibits a combination of bi-polar, schizophrenic, and post-traumatic stress disorder characteristics. This makes the him realistic, multifaceted, and really sympathetic, all without losing the humor, somehow.
Wasikowska, definitely one of the new people to watch in Hollywood, eschews made-up fakery, bringing a real 20-year-old woman to the role instead. An excellent casting choice all around, with appeal to the young female audience in particular. Also, I can’t be the only male nerd to find the Australian-born actress subtly sexy.
While I’m thinking aloud, I do have some serious criticisms of some of the aspects of the film. Among these, the White Rabbit and Dormouse are a diversion from the realism of the rest of the characters, even the other computer-generated ones like Absolem the smoking caterpillar. They appear very CG —very “animated”— and the Dormouse’s voice is classic cartoon and just a bit annoying. “It’s the WRONG ALICE!” “It’s the WRONG ALICE!”
The film could also have been made less dark, both figuratively and literally: Figuratively, the heads-in-the-moat scenes were rather excessive and appear to have been thrown in there to ensure that ‘Alice’ wouldn’t get a G rating. It would have been smarter to trade that for more intense action. Literally, a brighter color palette could have been used from time to time in the film. Oh, and the shortened Walt Disney Pictures intro sans the “When You Wish Upon A Star” intro was an unfortunate choice. Still, none of these things came close to ruining the movie for me.
My friend and movie-reviewing “assistant-for-the-day” Jarreth, who watches way more movies than I do, came away from the film muttering “spectacular” and “excellent”. ‘Alice’ “surpassed his expectations”, although we disagree on whether or not it was it was better than Avatar, the last 3-D epic we saw together. He enjoyed Avatar more, while the more I think about it, the better ‘Alice’ was in comparison to Avatar.
We both agree that the digital 3-D was excellent, particularly since we were forced to sit very close to the screen, something I’ll be doing again at 3-D movies. Unlike Avatar, ‘Alice’ could stand well on it’s own without the 3-D, but it does benefit from the added dimension.
It’s interesting to note that the 3-D in ‘Alice’ was achieved in post-production, unlike Avatar which was filmed natively in 3-D. James Cameron appears to have wasted his resources filming in 3-D. Director Burton was right when he recently told the New York Times: “When I saw the difference and looked at the time frame we had to do this movie, it didn’t make sense to do it [with 3-D cameras]”.
3-D or not, Alice in Wonderland is a very weird, fun movie, as visually impressive as you’d expect it to be. It sure has its faults, but why focus on that? Don’t be late!