Here be spoilers… if you haven’t seen the film, avert your eyes….
I went to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 3D. Let me preface all my comments by saying I enjoyed the film and wish to see it again but it is as others have stated “a bit uneven.” I won’t even begin to compare this movie with the book because really, it is not Lewis Carroll’s story but a sort of sequel to that story. The film starts up slow, telegraphing what is soon to be coming up in the not-so real-world, and with scenes coming off slightly awkward and forced, jumping from one foreshadowed event to another. But once Alice falls down the rabbit hole, the movie opens up and becomes spectacularly beautiful. I’d like to see it again without the dimming effect of the 3D glasses (if you see it in 3D, occasionally peek around the glasses to get a sense of the true color of the film). I am a fan of the visual world of Tim Burton and in that respect this movie does not disappoint.
Once in Wonderland, we are introduced to the familiar characters that Mr. Burton has re-interpreted with a less childish perspective. The 1951 Disney animated Alice portrayed Wonderland through a child’s perspective and this, what we are seeing now, is Wonderland seen through a young adult’s perspective… which leaves me wondering what Wonderland would look when Alice hits forty (or fifty) and falls down the rabbit hole once more…. hmmm, the mind reels… perhaps we don’t really want to go there….
As for the performances, well, Mia Wasikowska is truly Alice but Helena Bonham Carter is over the top as the Red Queen — the woman plays crazy exceedingly well. She blasts her way through the role yet let’s you feel a little sorry for old Red, too. My favorite line from the film is “I need a pig here.” I joked that I was going to use that as my new ringtone and look – you can get it as your ringtone: Here Piggy… now if they only had a proper Cheshire Cat clip. Stephen Fry is magnificent as the Cat – ubiquitously delicious. I read somewhere that he supposedly based his vocal stylings for the Cheshire Cat on George Sanders. I have been an admirer of Stephen Fry for some time and wish I had access to his vocal talents reading the Harry Potter series (UK audio books). Don’t get me wrong – love Jim Dale (U.S. Potter audio book narrator) but not when he is reading the Potter series. Absalom, the caterpillar is voiced by Alan Rickman. Of course, we all know I have a very strong bias when it comes to Mr. Rickman’s voice. I’ll just say his caterpillar is mesmerizing and reminds me of how much I would love hear more narration, poetry reading, etc. from Mr. Rickman … Er…. excuse me, I seemed to have digressed… where was I… oh Alice.
As to Johnny Depp’s Hatter – yes, I enjoyed his performance but was rather confused by the lisp or affectation that he used some of the time (it was almost a Boris Karloff meets Ralphie from Christmas Story type lisp) and then, all of sudden, in once scene in particular, where he is reciting Jabberwocky, the lisp disappears completely, the crazy goes away and we see a darker side to the Hatter – an almost political militant Hatter. This is where the film gets that whole uneven quality, trying to find motivation for actions where there should be none. At times, too much logic is cast over the sheer lunacy that Wonderland is supposed to be and succeeds only in slowing down the pace. I believe the movie finds its full strength when Alice stops wandering around Wonderland insisting she doesn’t belong, proclaiming that all is a dream and decides to go with the flow and play along with the insanity.
Bottom line – visually beautiful, inventive, magnificent vocal performances – but this generation’s Wizard of Oz? I’d say no, but then who really knows – it took the Wizard of Oz a few years before it became the celebrated film it is today (interesting WoO article here). Let me be clear that I will be purchasing the dvd and single framing and screencapping so that I can take a long and detailed look at the wonderful images, the flowers, and frogs and furniture holding monkeys that Tim Burton has produced for us as well as making audio clips of the caterpillar and the Cheshire cat for my own amusement. Oh and stay for the end titles – they are neo-Victorian gorgeousness….