Alice in Wonderland

“Have you any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?”

          Oh dear.  The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.  Of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings.  And why the sea is boiling hot, and if we needed this movie.  When I heard Tim Burton was doing a remake/sequel of the 1951 animated classic Alice in Wonderland, I wasn’t completely discouraged.  Sure, I thought right off the bat that we didn’t need another Alice story, but since it was Tim Burton, I didn’t object.  I mean, after the masterpiece that was Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Burton’s previous film, and the generally good films he’s made before (i.e.: Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and The Nightmare Before Christmas) I didn’t completely go into this film with bad expectations.  Oh boy, was I wrong.  I guess the higher you go, the farther you fall.

            Alice in Wonderland is a gimmicky, under-written, comical “fantasy” film that exists for no other reasons than to come up with stupid and irritating 3D shots and to get teenage girls’ estrogen pumping.  It is not appealing at all.  Sure, it wasn’t awful.  I really should give it two stars, but I add the half just because of the visual style of the film.

            Here is the gist of the outrageously dumb plot.  Alice Kingsley (why does she need a last name?) is a put-upon young girl who daydreams and goes against convention all day.  She refuses to wear a corset (a nineteenth century feminist) and doesn’t want to marry an odd-ball red-headed snob.  Then, at a party one day, she sees a rabbit in a waste coat and carrying a watch.  So she chases it.  This looked great in animation, but in real life it looks dumb, so now I’m thinking “What a moron! Chasing after rabbits!” So then of course, she falls down a hole and into Underland.  Then the film really goes wild, into the visually fantastic but indulgent fantasy world known as Wonderland.  Now the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has stolen the crown of Underland and ousted her sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).  Then the film degenerates into a cat fight between these two colourful females.

            Now, the problem with Alice in Wonderland is that it tries to make a logical story out of an illogical book.  In Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, it is a fragmented and episodic story with absolutely no meaning whatsoever.  Here, the plot is Disneyafied and given a linear and meaningful structure.  We had to throw in an action climax and make the villains villainous and make Alice a sensible person.  The film is so generic and dumb.  There is nothing original in it at all.  If Tim Burton had been allowed to hire his own screenwriter (instead of the Disney hireling, Linda Woolverteen) and to make this a darker, bloodier, and more gothic-type story it would have worked nicely.  And if it had been a remake instead of a sequel to the original it would have worked better.  But no, no, no!  We couldn’t do something that might scare the kids!

            The directing is not up to Tim Burton’s standards either.  YUCK!  The film is riddled with shots that run a long way over the landscape of Underland and then rush up on something long and pointy.  This is of course to make the 3D effects worth-while.  I’m with Roger Ebert.  3D is idiotic and pointless.  If Disney would do like they used to and make original and new kinds of films, I wouldn’t be so hard on them, but they have fallen into a rut of mediocrity that stems from the desire to do nothing but make money.  So they hire screenwriters to write the same action/adventure horse manure that dominates the cinema now.  But now I’m ranting.  Back to the review.

            After the first thirty minutes of this hour and a half long dust bunny, I began to feel bored and annoyed at the direction the film was going.  What could have been a dark, gruesome fantasy masterpiece was turning out about as generic an action/comedy as you can get.  I just don’t get it.  Now you can read all sorts of reviews.  Critics won’t like it.  The common folk will love it (or at least the teenage girls will).Tim Burton can do better than this.  I don’t know who convinced him to do this effects-ridden freak show of a movie, but somehow they did, and the result is not pretty.  But enough of this.  Here is just another pointless movie that won’t stand the test of time.  My advice: skip it.  If you have whiny kids at home, go see it just to appease them.  But I just don’t understand this movie, I never will, nor will I try to understand it.

            Now, of course the movie is not entirely bad, or I wouldn’t have given it the rating I did.  The whole look and production design of the film is very Burtonesque.  The bright, zany colours contrasted with drab, almost black and white shots in the next frame.  It’s a beautiful film to look at, with lots and lots of eye candy.  The way some of the characters are designed and the way the colours interact with each other is certainly pleasing to the eye.  But all the beauty of production design can’t make up for the lost story.  Danny Elfman’s musical score isn’t bad either, although it can barely be distinguished amid some of his other scores like Edward Scissorhands or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  This is a good example of what is wrong with cinema today.  Instead of being focused on entertaining a wide audience, the studios monopolize on this same story line over and over again to attract little kids and teenage girls.  If you ask me, stick with the original Disney animated version of the Lewis Carroll story.  That is a film that will stand the test of time.

Walt Disney Pictures Presents a film by Tim Burton

Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, voices of Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Christopher Lee. Directed by Tim Burton

Rated PG for fantasy/action violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.  Release Date: 05 March 2010

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