Peter Eramo Reviews: “Alice in Wonderland” (***)
June 17, 2010 13 Comments
I recall that there was so much anticipation to this film — ‘The film that Tim Burton was born to direct’ was what everyone was saying. Then, when it was released earlier this year, I hadn’t heard many positive things about it at all (despite its massive box-office intake), so I decided to stay away from it. Sadly, I did not get to witness this gorgeous looking film on the big screen, but I am glad that I did get around to watching it as I found it to be a pretty enjoyable film.
Tim Burton is hit-or-miss with me. Though certainly a great visual director who has his own unique style, I always felt he needed better screenwriters to collaborate with as many times it is the screenplay that I find to be weak, though he has made terrific films in “Sweeney Todd,” “Big Fish” and “Ed Wood.” Here, he re-creates his own bold interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s seminal work with an adapted screenplay by Linda Woolverton. Rather than having an Alice trying to figure out who she is not (as in the book), this Alice (a fresh young face in Mia Wasikowska) is seeking to find out who she is as a 19 year-old budding woman. In the process, Burton gets to explore the complex nature of dreams as Alice is never quite sure if she is awake or will wake up at any moment.
Alice is betrothed to an idiotic fop of an English nobleman who she really has no love for. The first few minutes pretty much beat you over the head with showing you how independent and unique she is — too much so. At her engagement party where she is debating whether or not to say “Yes” to this clod, Alice escapes and falls down the proverbial rabbit hole, entering the magical world of “Underland.” Filled with strange and unique characters – a tyrannical queen, talking animals, bandersnatches, knights and such – Alice finds that she is there for one reason…to slay the treacherous Jabberwocky and restore the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to her rightful place on the throne.
The film is a visual delight filled with wonderous art direction, make-up, and computer effects in addition to Colleen Atwood’s imaginative costume design for these surreal characters. Danny Elfman’s score, though fitting, is quite easy to point out, as much of his work for Burton’s films sound very much alike. While in Underland, the movie is a treat to watch — it’s the beginning and end of the film, when Alice is in “the real world,” that the film falls short.
The performances here are wonderful and fun to watch. As the despotic Red Queen with the enormous head, Helena Bonham Carter is deliciously fun. She is incredibly bossy here (“I need a pig!”) and barks her orders in quick, firm fashion. Though quite villainous, Carter does display a great sense of insecurity and envy towards her sister, the White Queen. You almost feel bad for her…almost! Hathaway does a fine job as the White Queen who is committed to her altruistic vows. She doesn’t get to chew the scenery like her co-stars, but does an admirable job and has the right look/air of playing the good queen. The voice work of Alan Rickman (the Blue Caterpillar) is superb, which should be of no shock to anyone. His baritone voice is smooth and melodic and creates a great sense of mystery here. Stephen Fry plays the voice of the magical Cheshire Cat and he too is wonderful to listen to.
Of course the highlight here is Johnny Depp playing the infamous Mad Hatter. I’m not sure what to say about Mr. Depp other than the fact that I find him to be one of the handful of actors working today that truly immerses himself in a role and commits to the craft of performance in full force. A close friend and “student” of the late Marlon Brando, you can tell that much of Brando’s approach wore off. Depp has an uncanny chameleon-like ability and here, he comes up with his own unique interpretation of the Mad Hatter. He is sweet and gentle one moment, and forceful and a bit sinister the next. His lispy voice and eccentric manner (as well as his make-up and costume) fit the legendary character very well. He also plays a great protector to little Alice and there is a very sweet scene between the two when Alice has to say good-bye to her new friend. I found myself feeling great empathy for him throughout the film. There is also an incredible scene between Depp and Carter when he is brought in to her as a shackled prisoner. Great fun to watch!
This is a very engaging coming-of-age story where Alice has to figure out who she is, what she wants and has to find her “muchness” that she has apparently lost. Wasikowska, an actress I was not familiar with, does a nice job at playing the very demanding role where much of her work is done against a green screen – and her chemistry with Depp is strong.
All in all, I was upset that I didn’t get to witness this event on the big screen and I don’t see where all the negativity comes from — unless it was that expectations were set so high that Burton had to create a masterpiece in order to satisfy everyone. This film is not a masterpiece, but it is a very entertaining film that takes on its own interpretation while keeping the tone and feel of the book everyone knows. And though it does have a few flaws, I enjoyed it immensely.
To watch the film trailer, please click here