Alex in Wonderland

Sorry about the title.  It got stuck in my head this morning while I was walking Stella and gave me a pretty good laugh.  Then I went back to it while walking her this afternoon, and it was still funny, so I thought I’d go with it.  I wonder how long before I’m known around the neighborhood as that guy who walks his dog and talks to himself?  Not exactly a reputation I want in Greenpoint.  I get the feeling some of these Polish people still burn witches.  Maybe I should start wearing a mask.

Alice in Wonderland was, first and foremost, a visual masterpiece.  But then, you already knew that.  I think it was obvious to everyone that this movie was going to be easy on the eyes.  Having Wonderland to work with probably made Tim Burton feel like a kid in a candy store.  When I first heard about htis match made in heaven it almost made me feel like a kid in a candy store.  I’ve always been a huge fan of Burton’s aesthetic touch.  Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish and Edward Scissorhands are the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen.  I think Alice can stand toe-to-toe with those three (visually).  It might even be better.  Some scenes, particularly those involving the red and white queens and their castles, were awesome to behold.  My expectations were high, and my boy didn’t disappoint.

The casting was also superb.  Again, hardly surprising.  Tim Burton knows how his characters should look, and he casts accordingly.  For him, the actors are also part of the set.  It’s an approach you don’t see nearly enough.  Actors should look the part.  Burton’s always do.  He probably married Helena Bonham-Carter because of how well her face meshes with his mental imagery.  Bonham-Carter was great as the red queen, by the way.  And not just her look.  Her abrupt, annoying voice matched her huge-headed blank stare perfectly.

Similarly well-cast was Anne Hathaway as the white queen.  Her face has a lot of character, which is probably why she got the part.  But it wasn’t just her face; her willowy, overly graceful movements were a nice addition.  At one point she twirls away from a telescope to make room for Alice, and its the perfect blend of pretty and absurd.  I’m no big fan of Hathaway*, but she was great in this.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Burton use her again in the future.  Once he finds an actor he likes, he tends to stick with them.

*I saw her do something on SNL once I didn’t like.  It was last year during the Will Ferrell season finale when they had all those famous people on stage singing “Goodnight Saigon”.  It was a pretty cool moment, but Hathaway was a little too into it.  Singing with more gusto than I felt was appropriate.  You never want SNL to bask in its own greatness, because no one group of people can claim that greatness.  It exists independent of any cast.  That sketch toed the line.  I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Case in point: Depp.  How are we feeling about Depp these days?  I mean obviously I like him just like everyone else does, but I think I might need a break from worshiping at his altar.  I didn’t take nearly as much joy in his portrayal of the Mad Hatter as I should have.  He did a fine job just like he always does, but something has changed.  He seems to be taking roles designed to make people say, “Depp as _____?  Oh man, that’s gonna be classic!”  Willy Wonka, John Dillinger, Captain Jack Sparrow, Sweeney Todd, and now the Mad Hatter.  It’s all just getting to be a bit much.  Whats next, Depp as Dracula?  John Lennon?  The Fonz?  I’m thinkin’ Depp should take it back to the art-house for a while.  It’s time.

The real star of the show, for me, was Alice herself, played by relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska.  Re-casting Alice in her late teens was no small task, but Burton nailed it.  Wasikowska mixes somber and spunk quite well.  She says childish things without them sounding fully childish, which was absolutely necessary for this role.  Again, great casting.  A famous face wouldn’t have worked here.  It needed someone who could be seen as a child and adult at the same time.  This new Alice is supposed to be 20, yet has to retain the same basic appearance of the original.  Mission accomplished.  Will I ever see Wasikowska again?  Maybe not.  Like 2 ships passing in the night, me and her.

Fans of lunatic perverts will be pleasantly surprised to find Crispin Glover prominently displayed as the Red Queen’s eyepatch-wearing henchman.  Glover is good, but it was Alan Rickman’s appearance as the smoking caterpillar that tickled my fancy.  I always liked that character’s lines from the original, and no voice is better for syrupy snark than Rickman’s.  Glover and Rickman: quality additions to any cast.  Well….Rickman anyway.

The plot was actually somewhat of a pleasant surprise.  I had assumed this was merely a remake, and was delighted to find a different story being told.  Alice disappears down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland in exactly the same way.  Once there, however, things are immediately different.  This isn’t a re-telling of the same tale, it’s a new story.  You don’t even find out until near the end that this is indeed the same Alice, and that the movie is essentially a sequel.  The new plot is nothing special, but Burton did a decent job of keeping the viewer from being entirely certain what was going on.  The flashback scene where Alice’s past in Wonderland is revealed was one of my favorites.

Of course, this is still a Disney joint.  Things get pretty silly from time to time.  I had to remind myself that this movie was made for kids, not overly nostalgic 30-year-old stoners.  Still, wasn’t there something sinister and vaguely menacing about most of the characters in the original Alice in Wonderland?  Burton’s landscape was creepy, but his characters engendered more smiles than shudders.  I would’ve loved to have seen this as a PG-13.  You gotta think Burton would’ve gone a lot darker if left completely to his own devices.   That would’ve taken this movie from good to great.  It had moments of greatness, but they were intertwined with moments where I felt stupid for being there.  I’m at a weird age for seeing Disney movies by myself.

next week: Green Zone.  I fell asleep during this movie the first time, when it was called The Bourne Identity (I’ve actually heard this movie is good).

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2 Comments

Filed under Decent Movies

2 responses to “Alex in Wonderland

  1. alice with her beauty & interestingness kept distracting me from the excitement of wondering at wonderland

    wonderland with all its curious wonderfulness kept distracting me from the excitement of wondering at alice

    i want to see it all again.
    but some parts i do not want to see again at all. i would bet those are the wonderland-obscuring close-ups of other-than-alice.

    cheshire cat is simply a character that can do no wrong in my eyes. loved the look of white rabbit – would’ve liked to get a better look, but, well, isn’t that the inevitable?

    i thought this was a terrific review, btw.

    if wonderland is alice’s wondrous inner world, i’m glad she let that white witch win. bodes well for all our futures, even the poor gent-sap sacrificed at the altar.

  2. bighatt

    Yeah, Alice and Wonderland are the 2 reasons to see this movie. Inevitably people will talk about how great Depp was. He was good, but if you come out of the movie talking about Depp, you clearly weren’t paying attention to what was actually going on. I

    I came for Wonderland, I stayed for Alice (and also Wonderland).

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