“You’re all late for tea!”
I may be a week late but I finally decided to see “Alice in Wonderland.” Being a fan of Johnny Depp and normally being all for the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton/Danny Elfman collaborations I wanted to see this movie but “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” actually disturbed me. I thought visually it was stunning but the underlying emotionality of several of the scenes, the ones with Oompa Loompa songs in particular, made my cerebellum cry. I remember sitting in the theater with my best friend hearing children all around us laughing hysterically and thinking to myself that I would never bring my kid to watch this now knowing what it was; but how could one know, no?
ANYWHO… I had reserved myself to KNOWING “Alice” would be even more bizarre than “Charlie” in every way imaginable simply because it took place in an imaginary world, unlike “Charlie”. I can honestly say that I was wrong. Perhaps it was the partnering with Disney or a more severe editing eye on Burton’s part but it wasn’t bizarre. I have not read the books or seen the original movie so I was not hoping it would be like anything I’d seen before. It was not bizarre but was just macabre enough to be satisfying, an element that “Charlie” greatly needed. While this movie had classic Burton visual elements that we’ve seen in “Charlie” and in the “Sweeney Todd” “By the Sea” number, what did puzzle me was that I felt there was a missing element; one that I am still searching for but I want to attribute to the screenplay.
The film began with its rising action but once Alice, played with great character awareness by Mia Wasikowska, reached Wonderland, to me, it plateaued for a good 45 minutes, or until Alice reached the White Queen played by Anne Hathaway (in this, seemingly a mix of Snow White and Ariel with a schizophrenic edge). Not that nothing of interest happens in those 45 minutes but the new elements were not introduced in a way that I found intriguing. Many of these scenes, beginning with Alice’s shrink/growth scene seemed to have a Quentin Tarantino quality to them and last a few moments longer than they should have. Fine for Pulp Fiction, not so much here.
Depp’s Mad Hatter, an interesting coupling of Jack Sparrow British with fits of angry Scottish, is first seen at the famous Tea Party that has a bit more build-up than delivery and I found my focus to be more on the March Hare than the Hatter. As we follow Tarrant Hightopp as the Hatter is named, we see more levels of his character. Depp’s Hatter is indeed multi-layered, his persona changing with different emotions, the change being manifested in his eyes and skin, a great creative element. Perhaps it was the ultra-visual makeup but Depp’s Hatter was not as mad as one might expect after his Willy Wonka, however it does not fail to deliver the performance the film required. Perhaps less was indeed more in his portrayal for such a character could quite easily become a joke.
The Red Queen, played with a child-like sense of “mine!” by Helena Bonham Carter, was an intriguing character within the larger character of her castle. A castle which slightly resembled the Disney logo castle covered in heart shaped accents. The details within the castle were all intriguing from the winged creatures carrying chandeliers to monkeys holding seat cushions. Her henchmen, red mechanical playing cards with spears, were also a nice touch as was the Knave of Hearts, played effectively sinister by Crispin Glover.
The Jabberwocky scene was also a bit of a disappointment. I expected and wanted it to be larger in size and the battle that ensues I wanted more from, not just in length but in imagination as well. Neither the Red nor White Queen fight in the battle, something I really wanted to see. Another pleasing moment in this scene and throughout the film really was the airy appearance (apparition to borrow a Potter term) of Chessur, or the Cheshire Cat, played with a sleek seductive brilliance by Stephen Fry.
Overall the film entertained in spurts but not completely from beginning to end. Furthermore, Danny Elfman’s score wasn’t as “wild,” for lack of a better word, as some of his previous film scores. And though I was beginning to feel his film scores tend to stay on one track, the lack of familiarity was something I missed. Don’t fix what ain’t broke I suppose. The opening title sequence did maintain that classic Burton/Elfman feel (a bit reminiscent of the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban title sequence) but after that the score seemed a bit more mainstreamed than normal. I would see this film again so I could better appreciate the smaller details that this film is chock full of, costumes and scenic design especially. I would however preface suggestions to see it with a message not to expect the classic story. I would also definitely buy the two-disc DVD to see what went into the creative design in pre and post-production because though I wanted more, I’m sure a lot of thought went into creating such a visual retelling of a classic story.