A Masterpiece: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Posted: June 8, 2013 in Joe Giambrone
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Joe Giambrone

alice

Sometimes you have to give credit to Hollywood, and even to Disney, when they do something right.  Letting Tim Burton go wild with fantastical source material was the right call.  Some of his previous miscues notwithstanding, you must roll the dice in the arts and see what eventually emerges.  Burton brings Depp and Helena Bonham Carter and just a fantastic choice for the leading role, Mia Wasikowska.

Little unknown Mia carries this whole film into the wackiest reaches of Burton’s visual imagination, with some prescient updates to the original story.  I sat spellbound throughout the entire film, and that was in 2D.  There’s the possibility that the 3D version might work even better, but it didn’t have to.

Alice’s story is a timeless fantasy, the villains disturbing, absurd reflections of real power mad tyrants, whom history knew so well.  The fantasy follows such flights of political imaginings as Gulliver’s Travels and The Prince.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

I tried to get a handle on the new beginning/ending vs. the original.  Choices were made to modernize Alice with social commentary on Victorian era mores, and this gave an entirely new dimension to Alice and her real life outside the dream world.

Alice is empowered to challenge the expectations of society, and to make a stand for modern women and the progress of the last century.  Strong women are included in various roles in the film including the evil psychotic Red Queen (Carter) and her rival the White Queen, played by Anne Hathaway.  Alice, caught in the middle, and quite overwhelmed for much of the build-up, eventually rises to the challenge without trading away her conscience or morality.

Such a delightful, engaging, tense, suspenseful, lush visual extravaganza, this movie should be included among the top children’s films of all time.  Adults should appreciate it as well.

Now onto the haters, via Rotten Tomatoes.

“Lewis Carroll is bent over a table, tears filling beneath his eyes. Something in your heart breaks. Your childhood, perhaps?” -Gareth Simms

Speaking for Carroll?  Why should this critic assume Carroll would be seeing the film as he does?  In all likelihood he’d have sat spellbound and unable to speak.  Sorry, Gareth.  You’ll have to do better than that.

“It’s a weak structure, thinly tied to the picture’s tired and antiquated theme about Alice reclaiming her “muchness” and defying societal expectations.” -Annlee Ellingson

It was less than a century ago that women couldn’t even vote.  They actually did need to regain their “muchness”, and Annlee should probably think a little harder on that point.  Not as “antiquated” a notion as was glibly typed.

“Tim Burton is the kind of director who probably does come up with six impossible things before breakfast. So it was a surprise to see him produce a film so lacking in joy, innovation and curiosity.”-Gina Carbone

Huh?  Innovation?  Did we see the same movie?  Curiosity?  The one arguable point is the “joy” as this is a dark tale, a fairy tale fraught with danger and allusions to death and brutality.  I don’t find that a deal killer.

Who’s next?

“Not to say that Tim Burton’s made a bad film, more that this is a missed opportunity.” –Alex Flitch

You want the man’s liver?  What the hell else could he have given you people?  I’m seeing the passionless bickering of a spoiled, uninterested (and uninteresting) culture here.  Thank God for the handful of Burtons and Hunter Thompsons and David Lynch’s this land has ground out.

“There is very little to praise in what amounts to Burton’s most mercenary movie.” -John DeVore

I think most of these whines are of the kneejerk variety.  Such an obvious barb, tossed lackadaisically at King Rat DisneyCo. doesn’t even necessitate watching the actual film.  Yeah, Burton is just in it for the money.  Nevermind he improved a cherished classic in more ways than one.

“A bore and an affront to anyone who is even familiar with the concept of Lewis Carroll and his books.” –Devin Faraci

Appeal to culthood?  Not a bore.  Sorry.  I should mention a good 21 point spread between what critics were saying and what audiences (who frequent Rotten Tomatoes) were saying.

“The visuals are stunning, as you would expect, but characterisation is weak, and Depp’s turn is one bout of lunacy too far.” -Catherine Jones

In the film’s defense, the characterization is actually quite improved over the original.  But a bout of lunacy too far?  The Mad Hatter?  Balderdash.

“The episodic nature of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland doesn’t really lend itself to traditional three-act plotting, but screenwriter Linda Woolverton puts Alice through her Joseph Campbell reluctant-hero paces, and none of it ever sparks.” -Alonso Duralde

All true, except for the last few words.  Audiences are jaded and inundated with similar themes and situations.  This is true.  But, some perspective.  The story stands on its own internal logic, its own unique perspectives and challenges.  It doesn’t require cynical analysis by bored people who probably need a break from movies altogether.  Yes, there is some hero journey plotting, and that certainly can be a problem to those predisposed to reject such storytelling.  But is that a failing of the film, or of the viewer who probably should not have bothered in the first place, knowing they didn’t appreciate that type of narrative?

“A succession of chases and fanciful combats, more akin to Dungeons & Dragons than to Carroll, leads to a peculiarly truncated climax. The 3-D effects are enjoyable, but the added depth can’t make up for deficits in the concept or the plot.” -Joe Morgenstern

Wow.  Tough crowd at the Wall Street Journal. Maybe ask your kids.

Comments
  1. […] had to stand up for the Burton/Depp Alice in Wonderland.  I know that Josh Olson stood against the tide with Speed Racer (which I haven’t seen, so […]

  2. Trent says:

    rotten tomatoes point spread down to 4 … and yes, the film was weak ~ :)

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