Movies

Mattywood

Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Directed by Tim Burton
Rated PG


Alice, Mad Hatter, Red Queen
Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska), Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter)
Photos: Walt Disney Pictures

Alice in Wonderland is Tim Burton's most visually ambitious movie to date. The fanciful director of Batman, Big Fish, and Sweeney Todd has done outdone himself.

Late for Another Date

First things first.

Burton's Alice in Wonderland is not a live-action remake of the 1951 Disney classic. Nor is it an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's books. It's essentially an original follow up written by Linda Woolverton, herself no stranger to Disney's historic animation catalog, with Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Mulan among her credits.

Alice in Wonderland

Even with that pedigree, there's no doubt this fairly dark tale will irritate some purists who deem Disney's take from nearly 60 years ago as the penultimate in storytelling.

Very much in the absurdist, fantastical vein of Carroll's 140-year-old source material, this new, high-tech fractured fairy tale also offers a solid message underlying all the eye candy. It is, ultimately, about a girl finding – and being – herself. And there are loads upon loads upon loads of eye candy in this potpourri of eye-popping pleasures.

Six Impossible Things and Then Some

From the outset it's clear Burton cast the right girl for Alice. Mia Wasikowska (Amelia) brings the 19-year-old Alice to life; she's a little rebellious and certainly not one to do things just because society says that's how things should be done. Just who in the upper classes dictated that corsets were "proper attire" anyway? And does she really have to marry the much-too-prissy Lord Hamish?

The bigger problem is Alice, a perpetual dreamer, continues to be haunted by nightmares of blue caterpillars, talking bunnies, and mad hatters. The same dreams she had 13 years earlier, when she first visited Wonderland. She's also still a bit downcast following the death of her father, a man she revered, a man who didn't waste his time thinking small.

As a child, her father reassured her following her nightmares that she has indeed "gone around the bend." She's mad, bonkers, off her head. Like all the best people.

In need of escape after hearing Lord Hamish's proposal, Alice finds herself goaded on by a pocket watch-carrying bunny and down the hole she goes again. Once back in her old stomping grounds, her identity is questioned by Absolem, the hookah-smoking caterpillar (Alan Rickman, Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series). Is she the right Alice? She's certainly not the same Alice they met 13 years earlier.

Alice in Wonderland covers some familiar action turf; amid her own identity crisis, Alice is thrust into the middle of sibling rivalry taken to a whole new level. Alice must slay the Red Queen's pet Jabberwocky in order to restore the White Queen's rule and free the people of Underland (the naïve, younger Alice kept misnaming it as Wonderland).

Curioser and Curioser

Putting Lewis Carroll's characters in Tim Burton's hands is like giving Pop Rocks and soda to a five-year-old.

In Burton's vision, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series) is burdened with a "regrettably large head," surrounds herself with others displaying grossly exaggerated body parts, and rests her sore ankles on the belly of a pig. She questions whether it's better to be loved or be feared. As for the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, Get Smart), it's against her code to harm a fly and she moves with all the overdone gracefulness expected of royalty with nothing to do other than look royal.

The juiciest character, though, arrives in the form of Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland) as the Mad Hatter, who sports a shock of Scottish-red hair, has large, wide eyes that never seem to blink, and carries with him the creepiness of a happy haberdasher whose haber's been severely dashed. Even he, though, recognizes that poor Alice has lost her "muchness."

Burton's clearly in his comfort zone as he revels in the bizarreness of it all. And he's also surrounded himself with a cast he's worked with before, including Depp (a seven-time collaborator, with Dark Shadows next on their horizon), Carter (five-time collaborator, significant other, and producer of Burton's children), Michael Gough (Alfred in Burton's two Batman movies), as well as Timothy Spall and Alan Rickman returning from the Sweeney Todd cast.

Three Amazing Dimensions

For a director whose early work included the black-and-white short Frankenweenie, then heavily leveraged stop-motion animation in goofy, original movies like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, Burton has risen up to the top ranks of truly visionary directors. Many grouse about his storytelling sensibilities, but there's simply no denying a Tim Burton movie is a unique and visually-exciting work of art.

Alice in Wonderland is no exception. Burton plumbs his boundless imagination and fills the screen with a smorgasbord of ideas and gorgeous imagery.

And he also proves how effective the medium of 3D can be. Leaving eye-gouging imagery to less creative types, Burton selectively uses the 3D to fill the auditorium with Absolem's smoke or that ever-levitating cat with the Cheshire grin. What really impresses about the 3D effects is the incredible sense of depth. Wonderland is fully realized as a three-dimensional world, a sensation perfectly suited for Alice's tumble down the rabbit hole.

Post-Release Note: Burton's preference was to film in 2D and then convert Alice in Wonderland to RealD 3D.

• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.

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Alice and the Incredible Shrinking Window

After the notice to put on the 3D glasses appeared, a slew of trailers – all in 3D – played. It's clear the latest rendition of 3D gimmickry is here to stay... for now. There are loads of CG-animation movies to follow: Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After, How to Train Your Dragon, and even Toy Story 3. And there's also this year's "big daddy," Tron Legacy, set for the holidays.

For the past few years 3D has been seen as the "new" savior of the theatrical market. But, hardly ready to usurp any sort of market share with DVD sales on the wane, home entertainment is already getting in on the act with this year’s arrival of 3D TVs and 3D Blu-ray. Once again, home entertainment systems will try to replicate the movie going experience, on a much smaller scale.

Does it really matter to the studios? They get their cut. It’s the exhibitors that'll get burned until they draw a line in the sand, as they allegedly did when Sony tried to rush This Is It from theaters to home video only two months later, in time for Christmas.

The exhibitors made a ruckus and Sony backed down.

It's extremely disappointing how movies, even those with production budgets in excess of $100 million, have turned into such a disposable commodity. A couple weeks ahead of its theatrical release, Disney threw out the alert that Tim Burton's extravagant take on Alice in Wonderland would arrive on DVD and Blu-ray in June, a mere three months after its March 5 theatrical debut. A theater-to-home window that could extend out a year – or more – during the days of VHS has since dwindled down to six-eight months during the reign of DVD. Now it's paring down even further to only a matter of weeks from the theatrical release date.

All things considered, that would seem to be a demand squasher. Even so, Sherlock Holmes, a $200 million smash in the U.S., will hit store shelves only three months after it first played the theaters. And the $700 million record-breaker that is Avatar will have an incredibly short four-month window before playing in households on April 22 (so the rumor goes).

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