Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland
Cast from “Alice in Wonderland” ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved
After viewing and reviewing an array of CG movies over the years, I tend to be rather critical and cynical when it comes to films that utilize computer generated imagery to enhance the storyline. I was, however, overjoyed to discover that Alice in Wonderland piqued my imagination with wonder. The lines between live-action and computer generated animation were blended with such precision that it evoked the perfect illusion, creating an unquestionable “suspension of disbelief.” Throughout the film I was mesmerized as I contemplated where reality left off and fantasy began, causing me to at first ponder, “How did they do that?” … and later not caring how, but only engulfing myself in the experience.
I invite you to journey down the rabbit hole with me as I review the wacky madness of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. So, gather your Oraculums and hike up your skirts for a frisky Futterwacken. Hopefully along the way we will discover the answer to the riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
“Alice in Wonderland” film frame (L-R) The White Rabbit, The Dodo, Helena Bonham Carter ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved
For months, moviegoers have been bombarded by the hype surrounding the pairing of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in regards to their latest collaboration. The lengthy pre-promotion campaign elevated Alice in Wonderland to one of the most anticipated films of 2010 … especially with the film’s all-star cast: Mia Wasikowska (Alice), Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (White Queen), Anne Hathaway (Red Queen). Crispin Glover (Knave of Hearts), and Matt Lucas (Tweedledee and Tweedledum).
Yet, before Burton brought his mystical cast of misfit characters to the project, it was the script, by award-winning screenwriter extraordinaire, Linda Woolverton that set Alice in Wonderland apart from other adaptations of Lewis Carroll’s fantasy adventure novels. Woolverton combined elements from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872); breathing new life into the classical fairytale.
The White Queen’s Castle ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved – film frame
Set in Victorian England, the film opens with a glimpse into a young Alice’s disturbed dreams, which are filled with memories of Wonderland and fanciful beasts. Fast forward 13 years, and Alice is no longer a little girl trapped in an imaginary dream world. Instead, she is a teenager on the cusp of womanhood, who is about to be confronted with an impossible situation. Unbeknownst to Alice, the oafish Hamish Ascot, son of an aristocratic Lord, ambushes Alice by proposing marriage to her in front of a guest-filled garden party.
Alice is forced into a fight or flight situation of either settling down into a comfortable role of matrimony (with a boorish twit of a husband), or seeking to explore the world of wonder as an unattached adventurer. Alice chooses flight, as she politely excuses herself to chase after the white rabbit, inevitably once more falling down the proverbial rabbit hole.
Mia Wasikowska as Alice ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved – film frame
Readers of the Lewis Carroll novels are aware that the Ascots were not featured in the original tales. The Ascots, specifically Hamish, were introduced into the new storyline to propel Alice to venture into the rabbit hole, and ironically, they are also the force that makes her yearn to return home.
Burton’s mature Alice is strong-willed. There is nothing whiny, frumpy, or irritating in the character. Even when she is unsure of who she is, Alice is always self-assured. She takes things as they are, courageously, rationally, reasoning that everything is a dream, so she accepts circumstances as such … until reality strikes, in the way of a painful injury incurred by one of the illusionary Underworld creatures. Even so, Alice takes stock of her situation. She bravely accepts her fate that the seemingly unattainable can indeed be obtained, if one only believes in the unbelievable.
Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Anne Hathaway ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved – film frame
The casting of Mia Wasikowska in the lead role was a stroke of genius. As Alice, Mia takes command whenever she is on the screen, no matter who her superstar counter-parts may be; including the scene-stealing Johnny Depp. Not only is the actress outwardly gorgeous, she also possesses an inner-strength that shines brightly. She portrays Alice with the forceful conviction of Joan of Arc, and the beauty and grace of Venus. She is the perfect paradox: exuding childlike wonder, and at the same time, possessing an ancient soul capable of logical thinking. Mia is Alice!
Director Tim Burton with Mia Wasikowska as Alice ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved
While Mia is the perfect Alice, there could be no one other than the visionary Tim Burton to direct this masterpiece. With the power of Woolverton’s words, rather than merely re-visiting Alice in Wonderland, director Tim Burton re-invents it. Burton’s fantasy playground of Underland (aka Wonderland) is breathtakingly beautiful, and equally rivals, and in some cases surpasses, the mystical splendor of Avatar’s Pandora.
Mia Wasikowska as Alice ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved - film frame
As Alice interacts with a bevy of live-action and animated characters, she bravely steps with one foot securely in reality, and the other wobbling in a world of virtual wonder. As reality meshes with fantasy, “It is just a dream,” becomes her mantra. She is undaunted even with her first encounter with the Mad Hatter, played flawlessly by Johnny Depp.
Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved – film frame
In the vein of full disclosure, I freely admit that I could watch Johnny Depp, merely sitting on a sandy beach…for hours…and be assured that he would give an Oscar-worthy performance. Depp has an amazing ability to morph completely into character. As the Mad Hatter, he transcends logic as he slips in and out of sanity.
The Hatter has been driven into madness, not only by witnessing the destruction of his beloved Underworld by the tyrannical reign of the Red Queen, but also from the hazards of his trade. The Hatter sports a mass of unruly orange hair under his misshapen top hat. The color of his hair reflects the mercury poisoning that has seeped through his system. A madness that was actually suffered by many hatters who used mercury to cure felt.
Cast from “Alice in Wonderland” ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Along with the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter, all of Alice’s childhoods friends pop in and out of her path: Absolem, the wise hookah-smoking caterpillar, the wily Cheshire Cat, the confusing, but lovable, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the crazy March Hare. Of course, with allies there must be adversaries: the wickedly wonderful Red Queen, and her evil cohort in crime, the villainous Knave of Hearts.
Although the grown-up Alice has no waking memory of her previous visit to Wonderland, the residents of Underland remember her. “Help us make the world right again,” the Mad Hatter pleads with Alice. Although reluctant at first, Alice soon comes to realize that she must fulfill her destiny, and do what must be done to bring balance and peace back to Underland.
As with the original story, things are never what they appear to be in Underland. And in Alice’s Wonderland, size matters. Alice's height is in a constant state of fluctuation. The Mad Hatter’s attire is akin to a mood-ring, changing with his temperament. The Red Queen has an overly large head that surpasses the size of her enormous ego. The Knave of Hearts’ extremely tall and lanky body is a visual precursor to his off-balanced persona. Although at first appearance, the White Queen seems very normal, but as the storyline progresses there is a glint of craziness in her mannerisms, along with very enormous lips.
Anne Hathaway as the White Queen and Bayard ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved – film frame
Alice in Wonderland has a perfect running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes. The film neither leaves the viewer with a butt-numbing wiggle, wondering when, if ever, the story will end (like Avatar); nor does it leave the viewer yearning for more (like Twilight).
I normally am not a fan of PG-rated movies, but I highly recommend taking a trip down the rabbit hole with Alice and the Mad Hatter. See Alice in Wonderland with your kids, or better yet, take your best friend and reconnect with your inner-child.
“Alice in Wonderland” ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved – film frame
From the main stars to the minor players, each actor (be they live-action or animated) produced a believable performance. Throughout Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter continually posed a riddle: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” The riddle encompasses the heart of the movie. The answer … according to Lewis Carroll … was that he never intended there to be an answer. It was all nonsensical, like his story, something to ponder, delight in, yet not fully understand. Welcome to Wonderland!
Alice in Wonderland earns a wondrous 5 out of 5 hats.
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March 8, 2010
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