09
Jun
10

“Alice in Wonderland’s” Queen Trumps the Mad Hatter

Parable or allegory?

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Directed by Tim Burton. Based on the books “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll.

NOTE: I watched this in Disney Digital 3-D.

I’ve never been a big “Alice in Wonderland” fan. I know the gist of the story: girl follows a white rabbit into a hole and enters a strange land inhabited by the translucent Cheshire Cat, the insane Mad Hatter, befuddled twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum, March Hare, blue hookah-smoking Absolem the caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts with the signature phrase: “Off with their heads!” That’s as much as I remember.

As of late there has been a lot of discussion about Alice’s adventures and whether or not it was really kid story material. Granted the initial novel was written over a hundred years ago, and yes times have changed, but what was the story about? The current consensus is that it’s a weird tale of a girl running into even weirder characters, moving from event to event. Tim Burton saw this challenge and decided to give his own spin and story structure to Carroll’s famous characters.

When this tale begins, Alice is four years old and confesses to her father that she’s been having a weird dream filled with these various characters. Her father reassures her that even though she may be mad/bonkers/off of her head, some of the best are a little mad.

It’s now fifteen years later and Alice’s father has recently passed. Alice (Wasikowska) is now nineteen years of age and being taken by her mother (unknowingly) to an engagement party. Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill) is a red-headed Lord with digestive problems who plans to propose to Alice. Everyone at the party knows that he plans on asking for her hand in marriage at the gazebo. Hamish has title and money and in interest of those times, Alice would be a fool not to accept. Her only other option is to wait and end up like her Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), a woman physically in account but mentally in her own world, forever waiting for her prince to come. Standing at the gazebo, Hamish on his knees proposing, Alice is emotionally overwhelmed and runs away, chasing after the white rabbit and falling into a hole.

After getting past the “cake makes you bigger, potion makes you smalle” debacle, Alice enters Wonderland and finds a weird wasteland that unfolds. She’s escorted by the chubby, dimwitted twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas) and the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to Absolem, a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. The White Rabbit swears that she’s the correct Alice and Absolem replies that she’s not quite Alice yet. The Oraculum,” a scroll detailing the chronological history of all events regarding Alice, is produced and Alice is foretold to be the one who will save Underland by slaying the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s dragon.

Meanwhile, we meet the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), a small tyrant with a giant, heart-shaped head of red that has a moat filled with the heads of the beheaded including her husband, the former King. The Knave (Crispin Glover) is her right-hand man. He’s incredibly tall with a scar across his face and a heart-shaped eye patch that changes from black to red. After retrieving the Oraculum, he commissions a bloodhound named Bayard (voiced by Timothy Spall) to find Alice. Alice must evade the Knave and slay the Jabberwocky, along the way befriending the Mad Hatter (Depp), March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse), and Mallymkun the Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor). She must also get the Vorpal Sword and conquer the dragon, Jabberwocky.

But the real question is: does it live up to the hype?

If not for the fact that this is based on books whose characters have permeated pop culture history (“White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, anyone), probably not. If not for the fact that Johnny Depp is in it, probably not. If not for the fact that Tim Burton directed it, probably not. If one were to take out any of these three crucial elements, the film would’ve suffered. All three, and no one would have bothered to go see it.

Which brings me to say that as it lays, “Alice in Wonderland” is a good movie. Not great, but good enough. There’s a solid structure to the story going on which plays as either a parable or an allegory; you be the judge. The characters Alice meets in Underland are abstract caricatures of those back in the real world and just like the real world, Underland is forcing Alice to grow up; no more living life on her own terms of what she does or doesn’t want to do.

As noted in the title, the Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) really sets this movie moreso than Depp. Depp is an interestingly complex Mad Hatter, sure enough, but this film really rests on the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and in that department, Carter delivers. The Queen is more of a brat than a bitch per se which makes sense in Alice’s world.

On a filmmaking level this movie probably harkens more to “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” There is a level of kid-friendliness to it, mixed with Burton’s grasp of visual desolation, but underneath it all is a heroine who needs to come to bat in order to save the world/grow up. On a visual level it’s not “Avatar” nor is it meant to be, but Burton does a well-enough job mixing live action green-screen technology and CG characters.

One problem I had with the film was The White Queen (Hathaway). Imagine if Arwen from “Lord of the Rings” danced around prim and proper and was shot with a creme-colored filter. I have heard that the White Queen was supposed to be as mad as the Red Queen but not show it, and that’s acceptable, but the character just didn’t work for me; she seemed to belong more to Middle Earth.

The other problem I had with the film was in the final act, and there are two: first, the Mad Hatter is supposed to do a dance better than anyone else. He does a funky jig (infused with some hip hop music) that just looks too goofy for any seriousness. Then again, I might be taking it too seriously. The second problem is that attention is diverted from Alice trying to slay the dragon to the battle between the White and Red Queen’s armies. This was unneeded, seeing as the movie was about Alice learning to grow up and take responsibility as opposed to two sides waiting eternally for some prophetic day when both will battle for sole control of wherever.

One final note: my favorite character was the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry). Great, cool character that was well done.

TRIVIA: Christopher Lee does the voice of the Jabberwocky. And for those who didn’t know, Lewis Carroll wrote that, too.

My grade: B

Chas Andrews is a freelance writer, blogger, movie critic, what-have-you. Check out his hardboiled crime tale, The Big Adios, at http://aidencobb.blogspot.com

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