Alice in Wonderland (2010)
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Alice in Wonderland (2010)

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After seeing literally tens of thousands of movies there were only a few that can be said generated any anticipation on my part concerning their release. This appears to be especially true when applied to remakes. The latest term used to describe such movies is‘re-imagined’ but unfortunately that typically indicates a complete lack of any semblance of imagination. The stories will continue to be recreated though and in the cases where they are based on truly universal themes or work of great literature the stories deserve to be reinterpreted by each generation giving them an opportunity to put their own twist to the enduring classics. One such story has been a favorite of children and adults alike for generations; ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Like many baby boomers I grew up believing the definitive film version to be the 1951 Walt Disney animated film. The images from that version have become nearly as iconic as the drawings associated with 1865 novel that started it all. Throughout the years I have watch numerous versions including a recent miniseries on the SyFy network but none could come close to matching the sheer unbridled entertainment of that Disney staple. That is until now. Now this was the rare film I was extremely anxious to see. Once I heard Tim Burton was directing and his two favorite actors; Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter were staring I couldn’t wait. Then I saw some promotional stills of then in full make-up and I was completely hooked. If there is one thing that Burton is known for and that is placing a bizarre twist on the mundane but with themes as out there as presented in ‘Alice’ the results had incredible potential for something certain to be weird and wonderful. Some disparage this production stating it is too much of a departure from the original work but the fundamental spirit is retained a I actually feel that Lewis Carroll would sit there with a Cheshire Cat smile if he was able to view this treatment of his work.

I don’t envy the writer charged with re-working such a globally beloved story as this. Taking on this arduous task was Linda Woolverton, a veteran of Disney screenplays that includes the likes of ‘Mulan’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’. Considering the mark her scripts have made on family entertainment it is little wonder that the studio executives over at Disney entrusted her with such a high profile project. Transforming Carroll’s vision into one concocted by Burton is more like moving from one insane universe to another. Like many treatments of this story and these characters it is actually a blending of two novels; ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Through the Looking-Glass’. Those who are quick to dismiss this film as a departure from the source material would have to apply such criticism to most popular renditions. Burton has openly noted that he intentionally altered much of the traditional flow of the basic story. If you examine the novels it is presented more as a string of experiences portrayed in a loose, episodic framework. In this version Burton provides a much stronger central narrative so it has a more contiguous story instead of the dreamlike fragments and scenes. This is consistent with the obligation of a generation to remake a classic in as they see fit. Burton is an incredible story teller; one of the best around. At the core of his personal methodology is to craft a world of imagination and set the characters there allowing a full story to form. His works are dependent on flow and development and therefore not consistent with the traditional episodic approach. His Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a young woman who can’t seem to fit into the society of her birth. This has made her a strong willed, independent person not a little girl tossed around the bizarre landscape of Wonderland like a leaf on the wind. This Alice was a free spirit trapped by the social and moral conventions of Victorian England. Now at nineteen her last visit to Wonderland as a child seems like a dream but far more enticing that the forced, arranged marriage she is facing. Fleeing from the nuptials brings her back a quickly drawn into a political power struggle between the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and the diabolically insane Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). If Alice can prove she is the ‘right’ Alice she will be able to defeat the Red Queen’s ultimate weapon the dreaded monster know as the ‘Jabberwocky’. The Cheshire cat takes her to a tea party with the Mad hatter (Johnny Depp) who agrees to take her to the White Queen. This is quite a cast with many gifted actors lending their talents to the proceeding. Alan Rickman’s distinctive voice is given to the Hookah smoking caterpillar while Crispin Glover takes on the persona of the Knave of Hearts.

This is also a significant departure in methodology for Burton. He has mastered stop action animation in ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ but this is the first time he had to present the entire story as a seamless blend of live action and animation. Over 90% of the film’s principle photography was done in front of a green screen. The result is an incredibly textured movie that propels this classic into yet another century. You can get it on both DVD and Blu-ray but if at all possible go high def. The color palette is amazing as well as integral to the story. When combined with the robust, room filling audio. It is as if you have taken your own journey through the rabbit hole; your living room is entirely transformed.

Posted 05/20/2010

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