Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wonderland in Spades!

Alice in Wonderland may very well be, and for me, definitely is Tim Burton's greatest work to date. There's no contrariwise.

I loved this movie, from beginning to end. I adored all of it, the costumes, the sets, the character portrayal and the... story.

Yes, the truth is, this is not an adaptation of the book by Lewis Carroll. Then what is it? Well, if you want to get downright technical, it's a sequel. And coming from a guy who has tinkered with a literary classic, it's a brilliant sequel.

Tim Burton had said that what annoyed him about Wonderland is the episodic nature - one silly situtation or character after the next without any "point" or cohesion. I think we can all see it from his perspective. Well, he wanted to present an Alice with a new throughline moving in and around and about the old locations and such. I'd been happy about this approach when I first learned of it a year or more ago. But I'd also been skeptical. (Post.) I've made it clear that most times I'm on the fence with Burton. He's a (creepy) delight but often he seems to focus too much on the whimsy and winds up with half-baked stories. Not so very long ago Bart and I had some friends over and we watched The Corpse Bride in Blu-Ray. A very cool, fun movie. But yes, we found ourselves picking apart the story. "How come she could...." "But he knew of the..." and so on. What I'm really trying to say is Alice in Wonderland does not feel half baked. Contrariwise. It feels fully formed, etched out and fleshed out.

Johnny Depp, naturally, is wonderful. I'd read his "take" on the Mad Hatter before going in to see it. And he delivered that idea beautifully. Hatters were actually loony, we know, from the mercury they worked with to make their chapels. Depp felt that the "utlra silly and fast paced" loon version of the Mad Hatter would not actually be the case. Instead of just affecting his "witty" side, all faculties and range of emotions are heightend and exaggerated. He's a much more vulnerable, likeable character (and who doesn't love the Mad Hatter to begin with!)

I found this movie 'empowering' to women with no giant red flag to do so. Yes, there's a red flag for this aspect, but it's kind of like the ones on the end of a toothpick. Very ingrained into the story and subtle. And without the additional material brought to the tale, the impact of the strong female would lost.

And this is the first surrounding story that I truly admired. By "surrounding story" I mean what's put at the beginning and/or end of the Wonderland wackiness in attempts to give it that reasoning or point that Burton desired. An example (and probably my favorite hitherto) is the 1985 television version. In it, Alice is "too little" for the afternoon tea with the adults... she needs to learn senese and manners and such according to her mom, before she can attend. So, of course, she goes to a place of nonsense and social abnormality and escapes having become more rationale and civil herself. Yeah, that works. But the "surround" of Burton's works much better. Granted, Burton's only works on acount of it being a sequel. Nevertheless, it's achieved magnificently.

So we need to give a major BRAVA! to Linda Woolverton. What an incredible 'adaptation!' But then we also know she does a fantastic job with fairy tale type stories. She's the genius behind the amazing restructuring of Beauty of the Beast for Disney.

Mia Wasikowska is wonderful as Alice. In the trailers and such I had my doubts, but she couldn't be sweeter or stronger. Just what one might expect an Alice on the cusp of womanhood to be. Brava!

Helena Bonham Carter is to be commended for her performance. She took a two dimensional monstrosity and turned it into a compelling, sympathetic and fully formed entity. Yet she still retains Carroll's outlandish scary and comic qualities. Bart wants her to get an Oscar.

My only complaint... and it doesn't even qualify as one is some missing characters. The gryphon, the Mock Turtle, the Cook and the Duchess. You won't find them here. Why? I'm not sure. Oh, yes, the White Knight of the Chessboard is gone to (and Humpty Dumpty - but hey, I can see why. It's utterly silly in the first place and he probably shattered at the hands of the Red Queen.) And that, I suppose, is what happened to the others - killed in the ruthlessness of the Red Queen's rule. I'll buy that and think of it that way. But how about a line for Hatter or the Caterpillar: "If only we could consult the Gryphon, but alas, the Queen has cut off his head for insolence." Something! But, as I said, it's a minor complaint for an otherwise brilliant work. But compared to the landmine plotholes which can be found in some of his films, it's not even an issue.
I will be attending this movie again.

Just one other thing. The title of the movie is not right. I told you, it's a sequel. It's not Alice('s Adventures) in Wonderland. It's a tale that happens after Alice has already visited both places (i.e. also the Looking-Glass World.) So what should the title be? You'll know when you've seen the movie. And if you don't, change one syllable by removing two letters to put in a single one.

Oh - and Hatter: Poe wrote on them both.

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