Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

It’s been a while since my last review. It’s also been a little while since I saw this movie. But with a line of films coming up within the next few months that I’ll be watching it will be good to get the practice in.

Ah Tim Burton. You and I have a complex relationship. You made Batman which was pretty good aside from some minor fanboy nitpicking, but then you followed it up with Batman Returns and revealed that you didn’t actually read the source material. You directed Mars Attacks! which I still find amusing in a low-brain-power kind of way but then you also directed the Planet of the Apes remake which required low-brain-power to even begin to enjoy it. Frankly Burton is the definition of hit or miss with me and his somewhat dark and “gothic” style just reminds me of rich teenagers shopping at Hot Topic in 2001 (And, no surprise, their anthem is practically The Nightmare Before Christmas). Honestly I would just wash my hands of the guy except that Big Fish is one of my favorite movies of all time so now whenever his name is attached to something I think “Oh good, a Tim Burton film. How could this go wrong?” Well…
Alice in Wonderland is Burton’s attempt at making a family friendly film which is certainly not out of his range by any means but boy do I find it strange that he followed up the blood happy Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street with a kids’ film. Not so surprising is that Johnny Depp seems to play the same character in both projects but more on that later. In this film we have what is something of a loose sequel to the original book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and maybe the 1951 Disney cartoon but probably not the 1976 porno film.
Sorry pervs. You'll have to rent "Havoc" to see the goods
The story seems to take place under the assumption that the events of the book happened, albeit years prior. Though it’s open to interpretation I do not believe the sequel novel “Through the Looking Glass” is part of the timeline as several character from that book do appear but don’t act as if they have met Alice before. Of course the first time they would have met her she would have been younger and most of them are very insane anyway, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The plot begins with 19-year old Alice Kingsley, local weirdo, who is tricked by her mother into attending a party which turns out to be an arranged marriage setup. Before she is married off to some British dope who apparently doesn’t appreciate her (Although in his defense she does sort of act like a serial killer) the White Rabbit totally shows up and points at his pocket watch indicating that it’s time to go. So rather than deal with the large group of onlookers she decides to jump into a random hole after an animal in a suit coat with unknown intentions. Can’t say I’d do differently.
Of course the hole leads to Wonderland, Alice though for her part she seems to have no idea where the hell she is and why all these crazy animals are asking her to save their world. Whether she’s the same Alice they think is some sort of savior becomes the big question throughout the film. Armed with the absolute certainty that this is a all just a dream induced by her own self-aware madness she ends up joining the resistance against the large headed Red Queen and help restore the rightful ruler, the White Queen, with reckless abandon.
Also Johnny Depp wears a hat.
First of all I want to point out that the world that this movie takes place in is fun to watch. It’s what you imagined Wonderland would look like crossed with Halloween Town: a depressing dystopia filled with dead trees, fog and a lack of hope in the air yet somehow colorful (Though not bright). The playing card troops come off very Storm Trooper-like and there’s some genuine tension when they search for members of the rebel alliance (See what I did there?). “It’s a crapsack world and it sucks to be here”; that’s the vibe I got from watching this movie. The battlefield at the climax of the film was also a nice touch (I won’t say much about it) and it adds to what I think is the underlying theme of this film: this is Wonderland for Adults. But unlike the porn of the same name you can bring your kids to this movie and not be the worst parent in the world. Unfortunately the inhabitants of the world aren’t nearly as interesting.
Alice is fine. She’s brave, resourceful, quick-witted and loyal; everything you need in a protagonist of a fantasy setting. The problem is that she’s kind of dull. I’m not sure if this is because Mia Wasikowska doesn’t put a solid enough effort into it or if the character was just one-note in the script but I honestly didn’t care that much about her. Johnny Depp is of, course, the Mad Hatter. In this film the Hatter is more of a cross between the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Sweeney Todd and that is completely Depp’s doing. I’m sure. This leads to the guy switching from being a sort of manic madman to Jack Sparrow depending on whether he’s upset or not. Perhaps he’s bi-polar. In short the way Depp plays the Mad Hatter is literally nothing I haven’t seen from him all decade. Worse he gets a lot of screen time. Wasn’t the Mad Hatter something of a secondary, if that, character in the book? Hell if I recall it wasn’t even his tea party; it was the March Hare’s. Here he seems t be the leader of the fight against tyranny despite being, well, far too mad to be effective. Regardless the movie could have been called “The Mad Hatter: On the Edge of Reason” and it would have been appropriate. I can basically see the same character in a much better Disney film “Pirates of the Caribbean and the Curse of the Black Pearl” and that seems to defeat the purpose.
Geez I get it. The rum's gone, get over it already
The Red Queen is bit more entertaining. She’s played by Helena Bonham Carter, Burton’s longtime girlfriend but that doesn’t annoy me as much as you’d think. Yes Carter gets cast as a major character in every single one of Burton’s film these days but she usually seems to prove that she was the correct choice even if she wasn’t bonking the director. Anyway here she is charmingly off, sanity wise. The Red queen is evil, but not diabolically or creepy evil but incompetently evil. Every scene Carter is in you instantly decided she’s the most entertaining character in the room. On the other side of the spectrum we have the White Queen play by Anne Hathaway who has proven to be a n above-average actress that isn’t just really attractive (Though she is really attractive). In this role she’s…okay. She didn't set my world on fire here, though she hasn't really done that since Rachel Getting Married. The Queen is intriguing though as she keeps breaking her “flowery and virginal” character everyonce in a while. It’s fun but she doesn’t go far enough with it to be as noteworthy as Hathaway thinks it is.
All other characters fall flat. They aren’t developed past the very basics and completely felt superfluous to me (Although the Knave of Hearts has a hilarious fetish). In fact they were kind of annoying since pretty much everyone in the film is too weak, too incompetent, or too crazed to do anything to improve their situation in their terrible lives. They basically wait around for Alice to come save them from the Red Queen. I’m not an objectivist or anything but these guys sound like parasites to me.
I didn't read it because I'm not a white upper middle class high school kid
That plot itself bored me by midway. With the exception of some scenes where Alice was 9-feet tall and wrecking the joint I was pretty much out of it by the time the climax started. On top of that my nitpick sense was going off like crazy. I did not read either book, I make no claims, but even I know that the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts are not the same person! In this film the Red Queen has the temperament of the Queen of Hearts, the catchphrase of the Queen of Hearts, has a playing card army like the Queen of Hearts and hearts on her goddamn dress! Wasn’t the Red Queen calm and collective while also being chess themed? Why not just call this character the Queen of Hearts? Was it so they could make a stronger connection to the White Queen (Who they kept chess themed)?
While I angrily pondered this the movie resolves itself and I didn’t really notice or care. I came out of this one not really worrying if I ever saw it again.
Bottom line is that this movie basically does its job; it’s a family film that both adults and children can go see together and it won’t really offend either. While it didn’t grab me it didn’t even come close to making me think about leaving, which is more than I can say for other non-Pixar Disney films. To use an analogy it features great ingredients (Burton, Carter, Depp, Hathaway) but whether you’ll like the recipe is really a matter of taste preference. I suggest checking it out if only just to say you saw it.
Call it 3 Adorable Pandas out of 5

- Helena Bonham Carter delivers, as per usual
- Wonderland is a sad, sad place. Neat!
- The art direction in general was pretty good
-The engagement scene where Alice first demonstrates how fractured her mind is was pretty dang funny
-Johnny Depp at certain points thought they were filming Pirates of the Caribbean 4
-All character are underdeveloped and at least a bit dull
-Can we please make a big budget Through the Looking Glass movie so we can settle that the RED QUEEN IS NOT THE QUEEN OF HEARTS once and for all?!?!?!

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