Saturday, March 6, 2010

MidAisle Critique: Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad? 
[Alice checks Hatter's temperature
Alice Kingsley:
I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are. 

It certainly is an interesting sight to see Disney playing so many cards these days. It seems as though ever since they scored big with Pirates of the Caribbean, the studio has been pumping out big budget live action films with relatively solid results. Sure there are a few stinkers here and there (Tim Allen films, Sky High, Country Bears) but I guess it shouldn't be such a surprise, it IS Disney afterall. It makes you wonder what is it about the studio that creates such a mass appeal in this day and age. I mean no one hasn't heard of Disney, so do they even have to try anymore? Is it the excitement of bringing established actors onto projects? Or perhaps the visual designs giving people something to discuss? Perhaps maybe the stories?? 

I cannot say for sure; but perhaps the studio provides the kind of illustrious fantasy that the world needs. If only they could get it right more often... oh well, enough of that roundabout confusion....

The review for Alice in Wonderland:

I will start out by saying that I saw the animated Disney version many years ago, and hadn't read the book since I was 15; so attempting to find comparisons will be nearly impossible for this review. I actually went into this film with relatively lower expectations than I normally would find myself carrying. Perhaps it had to do with my overall distaste for 3-D after seeing Avatar, or perhaps it was because I felt the movie being overhyped by too many people without getting enough advance promotion from the studio itself. I love Tim Burton, and truly think he is a visioneer for the visual arts; but sometimes I feel like people just like to jump onboard his films because he has his name attached, rather than actually letting the film sway their actual opinion.

Luckily, I found myself thoroughly entertained by Alice's adventures in Wonderland. Its escapism for those who want a fantasy ride with a destination, its a folly of colorful characters, and its mythic (as it should be) in comparison to many films today that seem to lack any legend. Mia Wasikowski is simply wonderful as Alice. I was a bit worried that finding an actress with such little experience in features would prove to be her undoing; but the amazing thing is, that that concept actually creates a uniqueness to the entire film. For Burton to take a risk and use a very talented but little known actress is a move that speaks leaps and bounds for her ability, and she pulls it off well. In fact all of the cast is so incredibly casted (Bonham Carter, Depp, Glover, Christopher Lee, Michael Sheen! You can't make it up!), that you get the feeling that they would actually come to life if given the chance to do so. I especially enjoyed Stephen Freers as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, who portrays the role as an idyllic Disney princess, caught up in a zany twisted world of Wonder.

The amazing thing is that Burton was once fired from Disney as an animator, and now has the company essentially eating out of his hands in this one. Johnny Depp portrays a very different kind of mad in The Hatter; but is almost never overdoing the part given to him. He immerses himself into the role with a kind of synchrosity that one would find in many of his other recent roles. At times though you just wish that his character was a bit more looney, and a little less involved in all that is going on. This version of Wonderland is not so much a place for the kiddies, as it is an examination of those who have reached maturity but are looking back to their dreams as children and finding that the dreams have become that much more vivid over time.

With that being said...
The story could have been a bit more explored, and I have to state that the whole beginning sequence into Wonderland felt rushed to me. I guess that what they were attempting was to give you the sense that you had been to this place before and it was somehow different; but did so without letting those of us who had forgotten (just as Alice) explore its very nature. I would have loved to have seen more of Wonderland, and gotten a sense for what life was like for those living within it in a much more delightful manner, rather than having The Hatter retreat into his mind. I wished that the film was a bit longer too, clocking in at barely 2 hours; it left me wanting more, and knowing that I would not be receiving it. In this interpretation it was entertaining at all fronts; but could have used some depth in between to round it out.

All in all I recommend this film as an enjoyable piece of cinema. For all that is missing from it... well, you can't always get a faithful adaption, and in this case you can't always get a full reimagination without losing some elements along the way.