March 14, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

aliceinwonderland1_largeTim Burton is one of those directors guided by his singular vision. When you watch a Tim Burton film there is no question that it is a Tim Burton film. To some this is a great thing, to others it is something to be avoided, while others just don't care who the director is and just want to watch the movie. I am a fan of Burton and have been for a long time. I love the way his imagination spills onto the screen in such a defining manner. Now, being a fan I am willing to overlook certain problems, but this does not mean everything will be given a pass. In the case of Alice in Wonderland, there is a lot to like about it, but there is an equal amount not to like. While I overall enjoyed it, this is nowhere near his best. In fact, it could be considered downright disappointing. I must admit to have hoped for more.

Alice in Wonderland is a sight to behold. Burton is an amazing visual artist and he has let his imagination run rampant and roughshod through the fantasy world of Wonderland. While there is a distinct relationship between this adventure and the one told in purely animated form by Disney, the look is quite different. This Wonderland is a colorful, magical place that is as inviting as it is dangerous. There is always something strange waiting around the bend, there is always some new creature character ready to question and torment our heroine. Still, the look is alluring, the atmosphere hypnotic, and the tale surprisingly dark.

This story is a sequel of sorts to the animated film. We find Alice (Mia Wasikowska) to be grown and in her late teens. Her mother takes her to a party where she is to become engaged. Alice is not terribly enamored with the possibility, while also struggling with nightmares of white rabbits in waistcoats. She apparently does not remember her trip to Wonderland save for fragmented memories disguised as these nightmares.


Her dreams become manifest when she sees the rabbit. She runs off in pursuit where she finds a hole into which she promptly tumbles. Guess where she ends up? You guessed it! Wonderland. She is accompanied by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the white rabbit, Dormouse, and the dodo bird. All of the strange denizens of the fantasy land know who she is. Unfortunately, the memories are not mutual.

In any case, the world has become more steeply divided between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).It is up to Alice to step up and save the kindly critters from the Red Queen. The story really is pretty simple. Alice is needed to be a champion to the under served of the land and face down the Red Queen, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), and the Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee).

The film lives and dies by Burton's vision and his ability to convey it to the big screen. Visually, he achieves the goal for the most part. There are some effects/characters that do not work all that well (Knave of Hearts springs to mind, as well as the Hatter celebration towards the end). However, throughout the majority of the film we are treated to a number of sequences highlighting quirky and interesting characters.


The problem the movie has is that these interesting scenes and characters all seem to exist in separate vacuums and are separated from one another. Sure, they are all linked by the plot, but so far as my enjoyment is concerned, it is limited to the scenes. As I left the theater I asked myself how his could be. The answer was fairly simple and came to me with ease. There is a distinct lack of heart.

That is it. That is what is wrong with this movie. It is not so much occasionally odd effects or the weak conclusion. The characters do not speak to me in any way that makes me care. Not once did I ever buy into the threat. No one ever seemed to be in any real danger. There was nothing that allowed me in to care about them. I get the impression that Burton was more interested in the look and atmosphere than he was in the story. It is a shame, as there is a lot of potential here.

The performances are generally good with Mia Wasikowska delivering a strong willed Alice and Johnny Depp delivering te creepy quirk as the Hatter. The story is there, if not terribly solid. Finally, Burton does bring his vision to the screen, it just isn't quite as well thought out as past projects. Still, it did hold my attention, I just don't think it will stick in my mind as long as others do.

Mildly Recommended.

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