Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 03/17/10 17:54:37

"Not much to wonder about"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Tim Burton is less a filmmaker, and more a fabulist. His films are surreal journeys into imagined worlds of dark fantasy. With his name as the director reimagining Lewis Carroll’s hallucinatory kidult tale about Alice and her adventures in Wonderland, it seemed like the perfect union. Who could do better justice to the subversive world of Carroll than the man who’s used aliens to make a political satire (Mars Attacks!) and Willy Wonka as an eerie allusion to Michael Jackson (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory)? But Burton is also known to be a hit-or-miss director; his overzealous attention to visuals often coming in the way of telling a story. Alice In Wonderland suffers on the narrative front, because Burton the filmmaker is clearly absent. The more pressing concern is that Burton the fabulist is not in great form either!

Burton and writer Linda Woolverton opt for the road less travelled by updating Carroll’s timeless classic rather than adapting it. Alice is not the little kid that she was in Carroll’s fable. She is instead a 19 year old girl (as played by newcomer Mia Wasikowska) who has recurring dreams about a world full of wonders. Curious and inquisitive, Alice has a disdain for everything conventional…and so naturally, she doesn’t take kindly to her mother propositioning that she get married to a wealthy dimwit. On the day of her engagement, Alice prefers instead to run after a rabbit that she spots at the venue- a waistcoat-wearing rabbit with a pocket-watch! She literally follows the animal down the proverbial rabbit-hole and into the Wonderland of her dreams.

Carroll’s Alice had one crazy encounter after other with the madcap characters of his underworld, from the Mad Hatter to the March Hare and the Cheshire Cat to the Red Queen. Burton’s Alice encounters the same characters yes, but they seem to remember her from a time before, while she believes all of it to be just a dream. The Wonderland of her dreams, and of Carroll’s imagination, also is in a state of decrepit, having fallen into the hands of the evil bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). While Carroll’s heroine experienced a journey that didn’t really have any function (except to serve Carroll’s metaphorical observations on Victorian society), this adult heroine has been handed the specific task of restoring order in the Wonderland by defeating the Red Queen and her monster-creature Jabberwocky.

While the decision to give Alice’s character a proper arc and her adventures a definite purpose is understandable given that films, unlike books, take place outside your mind and not within, and hence need to provide closure…the ploy risks losing out fresh entrants to the series as the writing doesn’t bother introducing the audience to its characters, glibly assuming that everyone’s already familiar with them.

The actors, except Masikowska, do their best though in helping fill the blanks. Bonham Carter’s clearly having fun with her vicious Red Queen- reprimanding her frog for stealing her tart and demanding a pig’s belly to rest her feet upon. Anne Hathaway has a tiny role as the White Queen, but she stays in memory by lending her character an oddly funny mannerism of entering and exiting scenes by sashaying across as a yesteryear Bollywood actress would. British talents Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman offer their voices to the smug Cheshire Cat and the wise Absolem Caterpillar respectively. It is the top-billed Johnny Depp though who stands tall, doing complete justice to the memorable Mad Hatter of the books. Depp continues to surprise with his chameleon-like ability to transform into any character, and more so for bringing a certain gravity to the most outlandish and far-fetched of roles. One only wishes that Burton had selected a stronger lead. Mia Wasikowska, while pretty, never lets us in what she’s feeling. Her sense of wonderment and dread are never felt.

One also fails to see why this film had to be released in 3D. With its bright colours and striking imagery, this is a film that is suited more for conventional 2D. Avatar has set the bar for 3D extremely high, but its success has also meant more films trying to cash-in on the dimension. Alice In Wonderland does itself a disservice by resorting to an afterthought 3D which mutes its colours and causes noticeable blurring.

A rousing background score (Danny Elfman), inventive set design (Avatar’s Oscar winning Robert Stromberg) and a dependably good Johnny Depp notwithstanding; there’s very little that’s truly wonderful here.

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