13 years have passed since Alice first visited Wonderland. She was just a little girl back then — a mad, little girl plagued by a nightmare. Now, almost 20, Alice finds herself thrust headfirst into adulthood yet continues to have the same dream for as long as she can remember. On the verge of being thrown into a marriage she’s unsure of, Alice finds herself easily distracted by the simplest things. What would it be like to fly? What if women wore trousers and men wore dresses? Or the fact that wearing a corset is similar to wearing a codfish on your head. The White Rabbit eventually distracts Alice long enough to lead her back down the rabbit hole for a return visit to Wonderland, but Alice is still under the impression that it’s all a dream and has no recollection of her first trip there. Since Alice’s first visit, however, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) used the Jabberwocky to relinquish the crown from her sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and now reigns supreme as the queen of Wonderland. As the creatures of Wonderland debate whether this Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is the “right Alice” that is destined to kill the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen’s reign, Alice struggles with trying to wake up from this very realistic dream.
As a huge fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, I was seriously looking forward to Alice in Wonderland, the latest retelling of the famous story. The pairing of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, whether you love it or hate it, has resulted in some fairly creative and successful works. At this point in his career, it’s fairly easy to spot something that Tim Burton has done. Like most directors, he has a specific style and Burton’s seems to revolve around things that are dark, grisly, and bizarre all rolled into one. So how would Burton’s wonderfully grotesque style mesh with Lewis Carroll’s delightfully imaginative Alice and her trip to Wonderland? To be blunt, beautifully.
The way Burton went about the subject matter is probably the best way to go. It’s an original tale with characters that are already well-established and are admired by a mass audience. That thin line, between homage and plagiarism that is often tread in situations like this, isn’t quite so thin anymore and here it mainly follows the homage path. Burton’s style also sheds new light on Wonderland or casts a larger shadow on it depending on how you look at it. Beheadings are common, the monsters like the Bandersnatch and the Jabberwocky are gruesome, and the Dormouse has a thing about stabbing creatures in the eye. It’s like if Lewis Carroll’s vision met a bizarro, cracked out, Grimm’s Fairy Tale version of itself.
The bizarre thing is that the secondary characters seem to be more interesting than the primary ones. I found myself drawn to characters like the Dodo Bird, the White Rabbit, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Executioner, the Red Queen’s knights, and the Jabberwocky more than say Alice or the White Queen. That could be due to the fact that I’m drawn to the peculiar and I’m also an aficionado of the ridiculous. However, some characters seemed to be lacking interest (The White Queen) or enthusiasm (Alice) while secondary characters would fill that gap, so it seemed to balance out in the end.
I loved nearly everything about the film ranging from the Red Queen’s outlandish reign to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of The Mad Hatter to Tim Burton’s version of Wonderland itself. Even Crispin Glover’s role as the Knave of Hearts was exceptional. There are, however, a few things about the film that didn’t sit well with me or that seemed questionable. One of them was the addition of Bayard the Bloodhound whom Alice rides across Wonderland. The addition isn’t necessarily bad as the character gains sympathy from the audience rather effortlessly, but the character just didn’t seem essential to the story like the other characters were. Maybe it’s because it’s a character Lewis Carroll didn’t create and it left me wondering, “If you are going to introduce a character into an oddball world, wouldn’t something odder be the answer . . . something like an ostrich or perhaps a roadrunner?” What also didn’t sit well with me about Alice in Wonderland can be summed up with one four syllable word: Futterwhacken. What the hell was that? It was like if Regan from The Exorcist decided to start river dancing during a rather serious seizure. The concept wasn’t a bad one, but its execution should have been something completely different.
And I’m not sure if it was just the theater I was in or what, but it was hard to understand the characters at times. The Mad Hatter and the tea party scene, especially. Every other character was perfectly audible, the music was booming, and the battle scenes were exceptionally loud. The Mad Hatter’s mumbling and the March Hare’s ramblings are just hard to understand, which is unfortunate as they’re two of the characters you’ll want to hear the most.
Alice in Wonderland is frame-for-frame Burton’s ghastly version of the tale everyone knows and loves. While his particular vision may appear to not be for everyone on the surface, if you’re a fan of his previous work, Johnny Depp, the original Alice in Wonderland, or even all three, then it’s safe to say you’re more than likely going to love this adaptation.