With all the feel of a 21st Century, living color, high tech reinterpretation of Arthur Rackham’s Alice In Wonderland illustrations with LSD flashbacks courtesy of Timothy Leary, Director Tim Burton’s masterpiece movie, Alice In Wonderland, furthers Alice’s adventure storyline in a manner that even her originator, Lewis Carroll, would find appealing…weird but appealing. However, a word of caution here: Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is a movie that needs time to take in because right from the very start you are bombarded with social commentary, prefigurative omens, an odd sense of lurking insanity, recurring childish nightmares, and that’s all before an adult Alice falls through the rabbit hole on her return trip to Wonderland!
Based on Lewis Carroll’s books with screenplay by Linda Woolverton, Alice In Wonderland starts off showing little Alice so haunted by her nightmare visions of Wonderland that she’s slightly off-kilter socially by the time she grows into womanhood. Now Alice is into questioning everything and making whimsical statements that batter the brain of her chinless-wonder admirer at what turns out to be her garden/engagement-party-from-hell.
Alice gets put on the spot in a true nightmare situation when her unsuitable suitor makes a very public marriage proposal and you can just about smell the rubber burning as Alice zooms away from her intended fate. Oh, look! There’s the White Rabbit conveniently showing up and urging her onward to where she tumbles down that rabbit hole once again only to be confronted with the body morphing, shape shifting of Eat me! foods.
And, no, she didn’t learn about dietary moderation from last time, much to the general disgust and confusion of her welcoming party. One thing I have to say for Alice’s costumes, they don’t keep up with her physical stretching and shrinking. She’s fantastically re-clad every time she grows or shrinks.
Refusing to be typecast as their savior, Alice is a disappointment to the Wonderland crew, who have pinned as much hope on her as the inhabitants of Narnia did on the four Pevensie children. And, like the Pevensie children, Alice eventually and reluctantly comes to accept the hero quest placed upon her to make that vorple blade go snicker-snak at the Jabberwock on that fateful, frabjuous day so Wonderland may be free of the Red Queen heartfelt tyranny.
In fact, the Disney animated version notwithstanding, Alice In Wonderland is chock-a-block with visual references to other movies and whether it’s the sly nod to The Exorcist’s head-spinning dancing of the Mad Hatter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee as inspired by The Shining, the kinky fingerless gloves Alice wears as seen in Tom Petty’s music video, Don’t Come ‘Round Here No More, memories of Miss Havisham’s decades old and rotting wedding cake in Great Expectations at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the armor cladding of Alice reminiscent of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the Time Bandits chessboard theater of war, the Jabberwocky fighting among senseless ruins ala Lord of the Rings: The Two Tower, and the Titanic moment when a newly emancipated Alice seeks her destiny abroad in the real world, it’s enough to induce a film historian headache. And let’s not forget all the eerie visual background references to Burton’s own Nightmare Before Christmas.
Mia Wasikowska as Alice comes across as a peevish and immature Cate Blanchett. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter has a method in his madness and a gallantry in his soul that nearly seduces Alice into staying in Wonderland. It also doesn’t hurt to have hypnotic eyes either and Depp’s were enhanced technically to appear 15 percent larger. Speaking of enlarging, the exquisite Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen sports a head three times its normal size. What with her red wig, high forehead, ultra blue eye shadow, white skin complete with heart-shaped lips, when Carter gets into a towering, royal rage, it’s like a volcano exploding.
Film fans know that Helena Bonham Carter is Tim Burton’s wife and she wistfully said about her big-headed, big-ego role as Red Queen, “I can’t rely on Tim to make me pretty.”
As White Queen, Anne Hathaway mentioned that, “I wanted her to have the punk spirit of Debbie Harry, the etherealness of American artists Dan Flavin and the grace of Greta Garbo.” But, as sister to the Red Queen, all she does is come across as hypocritically and creepily pacifist. Somehow sporting Goth dead red lips and nails, harsh eyebrows, and concocting a disgusting brew made of butterfingers that even Bart Simpson wouldn’t eat on a dare makes the White Queen seem more at home in the local cemetery urging the unsuspecting to dig up the grave of her dead fiancé in order to bring her the ten carat diamond engagement ring she threw into the coffin in a fit of sacrificial sorrow.
Crispin Glover makes a suitable cad as the Knave of Hearts, Matt Lucas as Tweedledee/dum is what Curly of the Three Stooges would be like cloned. The frumious bandersnatch is sort of a cat/dog dog/cat on steroids with lots and lots and lots of teeth. The jub-jub bird is a tool of the Red Queen and gets a major headache for all its troubles. The Red Queen’s deck-of-cards henchmen look like a venetian blind convention run amok and Alan Rickman’s hookah-smoking caterpillar needs to explore the wonders of nicotine chewing gum. Surprisingly, Stephen Fry’s opportunistic Cheshire cat, while it elegantly evaporates and reforms, seems mostly bored. I know cats are cool but as cat owners will tell you, they do like a good joke.
Christopher Lee’s Jabberwock is magnificent, scary and brutal and I haven’t seen such a one as that since Jack Palance did his version in the 1966 TV production of Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Oh, that’s right…it’s also in 3D, which mercifully wasn’t available at the Back End of Beyond, Arizona movie theater where my husband and I went to see it. I can’t stand 3D movies and whether there are two versions for theater owners to choose from or those dreadful Buck Rogers 3D glasses weren’t available right then and there makes no difference to me. Seeing it flat was enough visual stimulation for this mere mortal to take in. Viewing it in 3D would have made me jump right out of my skin.