Alice in Wonderland
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway
Rated PG, now playing in 2D and 3D
I have long been a fan of anything Tim Burton-related. He is the epitome of weirdness. He’s kooky, bizarre, batty, brimming with a creativity that only a madman or a true genius could possess (I think that he is a bit of both). So no, I was not surprised at all that Tim Burton chose to remake Alice in Wonderland. Honestly, I could not imagine it any other way. A world set in between nightmare and whimsical dreamland? Check. A slew of odd characters with ungainly physical traits or fantastical talking beasts? Check. A fabulous array of costume designs that rival the runway of Betty Johnson and John Galliano? Check.
During IAP, I attended Tim Burton’s exhibit at the MoMA. Many may argue that the exhibit was overhyped and repetitive with portrait after portrait of strange critters pulled from Burton’s brain. Creepily cute mummies walked about. Bold colors and deliberate strokes. Creations that were both beautiful and obscene. I was in love. If I could, I would marry Burton’s creativity. A particular line from the film sums up Burton- “All the best of us are mad”. In Alice, Burton returns to present us with a feast for the eyes. While I did not experience the 3D version because I heard rumors of disappointment, Burton truly delivers his visual vision to the audience. Boy, it is delectable indeed. Burton places his personal stamp on the original characters. The Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has a grotesque bulbous head and the temper of a 40-year-old spinster. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) could pass for the love child of a member of Cirque de Soleil and the late Michael Jackson. Fans of Harry Potter will cheer as Alan Rickman lends his velvet baritone to the voice of the hookah-smoking caterpillar. While the original Alice possessed an underlying darkness, Burton’s unabashedly highlights the strange.
The plotline in Alice is a revamped spin of the original Lewis Carroll. It is set thirteen years after Alice’s initial debut to Wonderland. Alice is a delicate socialite who is proposed to by an unsightly redhead during an extravagant tea party. Stifled by the societal expectations and conventions about her, she seeks escape. Luckily, escape comes in the form of a scurrying familiar white rabbit. Down the rabbit hole she goes!
Now, Burton is not one for subtleties in the film. Some of the symbolisms and gestures are trite and emphatically made as if the viewer may miss the message. When Alice finally ended her long fall down the rabbit hole, her perfectly coiled curls fell loose to crimped waves. The restricting tea party dress was next to go, replaced by an off-the-shoulder billowy concoction. The transformation could not be any more obvious. The constant distinctions between good and evil also became overbearing halfway through the film. Burton is not usually one to draw such stark contrasts — the atmosphere became more Disney than Burton. However, fear not, there are still plenty of rolling eyeballs and quirky Burton-esque things that devoted fans will appreciate.
Australian actress Mia Wasikowska is definitely stunning as a wispy grown-up Alice. Whispers of “God, I love her hair” pervaded the movie theater every time the camera zoomed in to watch her flip her hair. But sometimes Wasikowska’s acting falls flat. Her transformation from a dispirited socialite to a strong-minded independent woman was not totally convincing. Furthermore, imagining those frail wrists lifting a sword to fight the dreadful Jabberwocky causes me to wince. What she lacks in depth of character, she makes up with her poise and camera-friendly features. If Wasikowska’s acting career fails, she can always go into high-fashion modeling. Her type of beauty — all chiselled cheekbones and clean beauty is a favorite of high end designers. On the other hand, Johnny Depp is simply divine. He is able to bring a higher element of character to Mad Hatter. Aside from the gorgeous makeup job, he is effortlessly endearing. While the original character had a more menacing edge, Depp crafts a character that is adorkable. For a bit, he almost seemed a potential love interest of Alice but of course, that would be straying too far from the original plot line.
If I could have had it my way, I would have more Burton and less of Disney. While the film overall is successful at weaving a fantastical dreamworld, there is an unresolved conflict. Burton reels us in with the weird, painting his little world of stoic poker card guards and cackling rabbits in gentlemanly attire. Although we wish for nothing more than to soak in this strange but eerily gorgeous world, Disney sets on the old and tried path — the coming-of-age tale of a youth struggling to come to terms with her identity and destiny.