Alice in Wonderland (2010)

My main reaction to this film is frustration and confusion; I cannot understand why they felt the need to do a sequel to the original stories. Upon hearing that this film was going to be made, so many months ago, I was thrilled; it seemed like such a great opportunity to finally do the original stories properly and I was ecstatic that Burton was directing. Even in this final product, the beginning scenes of Alice as a young girl and the flashback sequences of her first trip to Wonderland are brilliant; succinct, visually simple and the younger actress was quintessential Alice, straight from Carroll’s books. And yet, the rest of the story drags, REEKS of 3D, and feels cluttered, overstuffed and indecisive. By that, I mean that they did what every film tries to do with Alice, which is to combine the two books into one setting/story (i.e. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass). However, most of the time, the theme is either playing cards or chess pieces, not BOTH, like in this film. It’s too much. They needed to pick a motif, and stick with it, and not try to, literally, push together two worlds into one. It didn’t work, visually or otherwise.

I saw Alice in Wonderland in 2D and it was quite evident that the film was made so deliberately for 3D; so many shots were useless without it. I’m not much of an “Avatar” fan, but I will say that, for all its spectacle, the 3D does not dominate it; seeing it in 2D does not detract from the cinematography at large, as it does with Alice in Wonderland. A lot of the film *felt* like C-G animation, fake and synthetic, something I did not expect from Burton. Although, the movie as a whole seemed lacking in Burton’s usual style. Sure, there were the typical curly-stemmed trees in the background and Johnny and Helena were present, but it about ended there.

Furthermore, about two days before seeing this film, I watched Return to Oz through Netflix, which, ultimately, follows the same basic concept of the heroine returning to the magical world which has fallen into peril. The day after, I stumbled onto Hook on television. BOTH were better than Alice in Wonderland, despite BOTH having been made oh-so-many years ago, before a lot of recent cinema-tech, especially 3-D. The stories were better, more organic, the characters more developed and, visually, a lot less about spectacle. Plus, the original characters in *those* films worked somehow, whereas the characters in Alice in Wonderland that were new (i.e. the Knave) didn’t, and characters that were from the original often got underplayed (i.e. the Caterpillar and the white rabbit).

However, while the negatives outweigh the positives, but there are a few positives worth noting. For instance, the Cheshire cat was spot-on. I loved him. He was involved just enough, and his character overall was slightly ambiguous, not clearly involved on either side, and just as unnerving as he should be, without being full-on creepy or funny. Stephen Fry’s vocal performance reminded me very much of Sterling Holloway’s from the 1951 cartoon and that was a very nice touch, whether intentional or not. I enjoyed the Cheshire cat. I also liked the Dormouse; though, for all intents and purposes, he was an original character, I still liked him anyway. The March Hare was fantastic. I actually thought he out-shined the Mad Hatter in some ways, again, because he was not in the spotlight so much and they utilized him well (“…spoon!”).

So, overall? I’m severely disappointed. I still recommend it, because if you’re not a fan of Carroll’s original works, there’s a chance you might enjoy it.

But probably not.

** edit, 4/4:
My April edition of “American Cinematographer” magazine came in the mail last week and Alice was the cover story. A sad day. It reminded me of how, to my utter disbelief, how well this film is doing, both among critics and audiences alike. I don’t know what movie they’re seeing, but it’s not the same thing I saw.

It took me a while to actually read the article and, once I did, I was pretty appalled. It’s five and a half pages about the details of how they did the 3D effects. Don’t get me wrong, the effects ruled the film, and so it makes sense that the article would focus on that, but still, there was very little creative reasoning behind those decisions; the article didn’t discuss the whys or wherefores, barely covering the timetable of their decision-making processes. I’m still left, after reading the article, why they made the choice to SO heavily drench the film in special effects and 3D. I’m still unimpressed. Borderline disgusted after seeing the production stills of Mia walking around the set, which was almost an entire soundstage gone blue-screen. Nothing in it but the actress, the lights, the camera and blue. YUCK.

Also – Tim Burton is rumored to be taking on Sleeping Beauty next, doing some sort of prequel that focuses on Maleficent. If it’s anything like Alice, count me OUT. And, gee, I wonder who he’ll have play her? And how will he get Johnny Depp involved? I guess he could be the voice of the Raven…? Guh.

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