Dale and I saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland this afternoon. Amazing. I was prepared to be very disappointed with the movie – the pictures of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter and Helena Boehm Carter’s Red Queen were too gruesome for me and the trailers made it seem as if Burton was simply remaking the original story. But I was absolutely thrilled with the movie when all is said and done. I couldn’t have been more delighted.
For me, the whole reason that Burton’s film succeeds so marvelously is precisely because he does NOT retell Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Rather, Burton imagines Underland some 9 or so years after the events of Carroll’s original. After Alice left Underland, she called it Wonderland as a child, the red queen staged a violent coup and stole the crown from her sister the White Queen. The denizen’s of Underland have been waiting ever since for the Frabjous Day, for Alice to return as their champion, and for the White Queen to be returned to the throne. And, of course, along the way, Alice will learn important lessons that will help her to succeed in her life outside of Underland.
For Alice’s part, she does not remember ever having been to Underland and thinks that the memories she does have are scenes from a nightmare. The movie opens with Alice’s father, a visionary businessman, comforting the child Alice after yet another nightmare. Several years later, we find Alice and her mother on their way to what will turn out to be Alice’s surprise engagement party to the sniveling Lord Hamish. Alice’s beloved father has died and now she find a way for herself in life. Her mother and sister both advise marriage but our girl Alice already knows that marriage to Hamish will be intolerable for a free thinker like herself but she is torn because she’s not sure she wants to reject the “good advice” that her loved ones have given her. Queue the White Rabbit and so Alice’s second set of adventures in Underland begin.
What I really really like about the film is that Burton has taken one of Tenniel’s original illustrations and used it to inspire the entire story. That image is Alice dressed in armor and killing the Jabberwocky. No one ever talks much about Alice the Hero and I love that Burton has picked that up. He also manages to make use of the classic Wonderland trope of changing sizes. However, instead of the various sizes that Alice assumes representing her own growing and changing body, Burton allows the constant changes in size to teach a different lesson.
Anne Hathaway was luminous as the White Queen. In Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen is a befuddled and untidy old woman. But Hathaway’s White Queen is an ironic Snow White. She always walks with her hands posed in the air, as if just waiting for birds to alight. In Burton’s Alice, the White Queen is the Red Queen’s younger sister. But the White Queen is the queen of white and black – her black nails and lips are divine. And this makes sense not only because she rules a chess set as opposed to a deck of cards but because she is a queen of life and death. Unlike her sister the Queen of Hearts, the White Queen has taken a vow to never kill anyone. She is the opposite of “Off with her head!” But, she has also mastered “dominion over dead things” and can thus mix together the various potions that Alice needs to be the proper size. Hathaway plays the White Queen so well. She’s a sweet heart, all right, but she knows when to drop the game and be serious and she has a delightful aversion to death of the Jabberwocky. I did miss the White Knight, however. I was hoping he would make a reappearance at the end.
Sadly, the one thing I did not like was Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter. In a world of excess, he was too much. I was intrigued by the back story that Burton provides the Hatter and he makes use of more of the imagery associated with the Hatter from Tenniel’s illustrations. But all I could think was that he was a mix of the Joker and Ronald MacDonald. The Hatter plays a vital role in the events that unfold but his plea to Alice at the end of it all is for her to stay with him in Underland. I just wanted the Mad Hatter to be a bit more understated and to be costumed differently. Johnny Depp does his usual Johnny Depp thing, and that’s very funny, but it’s just not the Hatter.
The climatic battle between Alice and the Jabberwocky, and the armies of the White and Red Queens is magnificent. Her vorpal blade does indeed go snicker-snack. The costumes are AMAZING and Alice finally gets to wear the chicest of gowns instead of her usual blue dress and white pinafore. Her dress, made out of curtains no less, for the Red Queen’s court is to die for. I’d show you a picture but I couldn’t find one. Finally, Alan Rickman’s caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat are perfect.
There is so much to praise about the movie but I will leave it at that. Save to say – Why China? Because in the original text, Alice wonders, as she falls down the rabbit hole to Wonderland, if she shall fall all the way to China.