Movie Review – Alice in Wonderland (2010)

by NIR SHALEV

I am very familiar with Tim Burton’s style and imagery and therefore, knew it was almost inevitable that he’d direct a live-action version of Lewis Carroll’s classic book “Alice in Wonderland.” Also possibly that he’d direct its sequel “Through the Looking Glass” or even more possibly a hybrid of them both, like Disney’s 1951 animated version. Finding out that he’d been working on a sequel to the books was a welcome change because frankly, there are quite enough film versions out there and not a single one had yet managed to convey the verbal imagery of the two original books. I was looking forward to seeing Tim Burton’s unique sequel to “Alice in Wonderland” and it didn’t disappoint for the most part.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now 19 years old and her trip down the rabbit hole is but an almost forgotten memory, terrorizing her constantly as a recurring nightmare. One day, while about to be proposed to by the biggest snob in the universe and in front of a huge crowd of her family’s richest friends and acquaintances, she notices a white rabbit that’s in a hurry. She follows it to a Tim Burton Tree and ends up falling down a rabbit hole again. There, she seems unfamiliar with the “drink me” potion and “eat me” cookie and is being watched by characters that claim that she’s not the same Alice as the previous one. Those are huge hints that this has nothing to do with the original story.

The original cast is back: the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is, this time on the verge of going crazy here and there; the Blue Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) still smokes that hookah and is an even bigger jerk to Alice; the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) is still wonderfully fuzzy and creepy; the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has an enormous head and is wonderful to watch; and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) is the most effeminate and fragile queen you’re likely to see. The actors have fun here because the material is not as childish as expected and they seem to enjoy playing these nut jobs.

The new plot has something to do with the fact that the Red Queen has taken the crown from her sister the White Queen and had taken over Wonderland (apparently misinterpreted from Underland), and for the last eight years has reigned over it with an iron fist. The coming of a savior was foretold in an animated calendar and it showcases that a female dressed in full armor will defeat the Jabberwocky (the Red Queen’s personal dragon) and restore Wonderland to its previous state of serene craziness. Alice grew up so she doesn’t remember half of the characters, even the most famous ones and continually disagrees that she’s the chosen one.

From that plot comes an interesting moral: one must know who they are and what they want to do and be. When confronted with the marriage proposal earlier Alice was indecisive and when confronted with her past time and presence in Wonderland she seems to believe that everyone had mistaken her for someone else. She physically grew but had not mentally matured in both realms and that aspect of the story I like. I also like the sequence introducing the Mad Hatter and his crazy friends. It’s just the right kind of insanity.

The atmosphere in the film is grim but not too dark. It works because Burton reminds us that this is Wonderland after all and he likes to showcase that the characters that inhibit this world are all slightly bonkers. The skies are gray and it somehow works; it’s dark without being too dark. The existing colors are vibrant and clash with the gray aspects of Wonderland, somehow mixing well with the bleakness, and the special effects are fantastic. The motion-capture is terrific and the graphics are great.

What’s there to dislike? Its third act is action packed and for an “Alice in Wonderland” story it doesn’t fit well, but then again the special effects are great so I didn’t mind it so much. And do yourselves a favor: DO NOT WATCH THIS FILM IN 3D. I made the mistake of doing so and was forced to remove my glasses at least 6 times throughout the film to let my eyes readjust. This type of 3D technology simply makes the film look like an animated diorama. All the characters come out of the screen but are completely flat like cardboard cutouts. The backgrounds are flat as well and nothing 3D is actually happening. It’s an eyesore and is strenuous and the film, due to the polarized IMAX 3D glasses is much darker than the actual film. Do yourselves a favor and see it in 2D like a sensible person should. The colors will be more vibrant, the camera movements will not be out of focus, and your eyes won’t hurt.

Tim Burton will always have something interesting up his sleeves. I hate his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), for his Willy Wonka has too much of a resemblance to Michael Jackson and also for generally being an unfunny movie, but he also has masterpieces like Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). Beetle Juice (1988) is always welcome and everybody needs to see Burton’s 6 minute claymation short “Vincent” (1982). He’s a talented auteur, a visual genius, and an intriguing storyteller. Opposing the amount of details he applies to the aesthetics in his films are the simplistic plots, and they work because he is a visual story teller and exposition is Burton’s enemy. Words are not as strong as images in Burton’s worlds and here it’s no exception. Avatar doesn’t work as well as this film does because its style and story are borrowed from too many other sources, while here, Burton uses one source and makes it his own. That’s why this movie works. You owe it to yourself to see it because it’s very unique and because I believe that a new version of “Alice in Wonderland” is just what we needed.

3 stars

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9 responses to “Movie Review – Alice in Wonderland (2010)

  1. I must say I disagree with you Nir.

    I didn’t feel that we, as an audience had a chance to be grounded in any sense of reality or “unreality” as the case may be, since the movie felt to me to be a showcase of CGI setup after CGI setup. It just moved too fast for me to feel engulfed by wonderland.

    (Spoilers Ahead)

    And since when where was there more than one Alice? Additionally, since when was the original Wonderland “real?” And how dense does Alice have to be to not notice this until the last 10 minutes of the film? If her adventure is real, then the audience knows something that she doesn’t (that in fact, it is real), and we’re just left wanting to bop Alice on the head, when instead, we should be in her mindset, experiencing this land of wonders with her.

    Speaking of Alice, Mia Wasikowska’s acting was bland to say the least.

  2. I did however, enjoy watching it, since I am a Lewis Carroll fan. And seeing the Jaberwocky in action was fun.

  3. I agree with you Helen but I think I may have an answer: since the original story was a dream then this one is too. And dreams are a concoction of our subconscious mind. She growing up but was still immature and so her subconscious recreated this world with a “sequel” feel and tried its best to come up with a story that would befit her situation.

    I think.

  4. That was Aaron :), although I must echo his comment as to Wasikowska. She was very flat as Eowyn, er, Alice.

    Nir, I like your description of the 3D turning the picture into an animated diorama. That’s very apt.

    The film’s greatest flaw? It had no sense of fun.

  5. Ah, but the film comments multiple times that it is in fact “real.” Are we meant to take this as a lie?

    What differs here (in this story) as opposed to the others, is that in the others, we think it’s real, along with Alice until she wakes up, which puts us in her state of mind. Here, (if your assertion is true), our investment in the characters and storyline is dramatically reduced since we have the knowledge that it is in fact a dream from the outset.

  6. The acting wasn’t good by anyone except for Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. Whenever he was about to break loose he was creepy and convincing.

    But I also dislike, and I forgot to put this in my review, that this film has 0 philosophy in it at all.

  7. Yeah, that’s something I liked about the books.

  8. The movie is somewhat all-over-the-place. Depp goes between his regular act to this mad Irish persona and while I get that this was done to make him seem crazy it just doesn’t work since the movie goes from this warm friendly approach to this abrasive “you have to slaughter the Jabberwocky” nonsense.

    There’s also the crazy rabbit. Did they think people would actually like him? He looks like a freaking crack addict.

  9. I loved him. Like I said, the introduction to the Mad Hatter and that cracked rabbit was awesome. I thought they were in unison and hilarious.

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