Today I'm welcoming to my blog one of my best blogging buddies, the wonderful Mieneke of A Fantastical Librarian. She bravely struggled through horrendous morning sickness (or "suckness", as I said to her, in an inadvertent but glorious typo) to pull together the following film review of Alice in Wonderland. Not the cute Disney version, but the Tim Burton release.
Take it away, Mieneke!
Up until a few months ago, all I knew about Alice in Wonderland was what I'd learned watching the Disney version of the story when I was little. Since then, in preparation for my "Alice in Wonderland" theme week on my blog – of which this guest post is part – I've read both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, as well as a biography of Lewis Carroll and a collection of his letters from the time the Alice books were written, reviews of which will appear on my blog all this week. To be complete I thought I should include a review of Tim Burton's interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. Since I only review books on my blog, I'm glad that Amanda would let me do it as a guest post on her blog! So thank you Amanda and if you run into Alice at Disneyworld say hi for me!
Burton's Alice in Wonderland is far more creepy than the books are. Perhaps this is partially due to the fact that my reading of the books was coloured by my recollections of the Disney film and thus seemed rosier than they were meant to be, but I think it's mostly due to Burton's interpretation. Of course in Michael Bakewell's biography mention is made of Carroll's mean streak – he could be quite cruel, even to children – so perhaps that's were Burton picked up the darker tones. But despite the film's darker nature, the sense of whimsy that pervades the original texts, the whimsy that makes them so special, isn't lost. Indeed, it's the irreverent, whimsical tone combined with the more serious underlying themes of growing up and finding one's place in the world and fighting for that place once discovered, that make this film special.
While the film contains literal lines from the text and anyone familiar with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass will recognise the inspirations for much of the elements of the film, Burton moved beyond the source text into new and unexplored territory. To my great joy this was mainly reflected in the fact that the film actually had a plot! The lack of which is my main complaint with the books, which meander from beginning to end, with nary a logical connection between the various episodes in Wonderland and only a slightly more linear narrative in Looking-Glass. The plot mainly consists of Alice returning to Wonderland, or rather being lured there by the White Rabbit, so she can help rescue Wonderland and put the White Queen back on the throne. Along the way, Alice learns to trust in herself, grows up and discovers the answer to the question she was asked before she fell down the rabbit hole.
All of the most well known characters are there, from the White Rabbit, to the Cheshire Cat – voiced by the ever brilliant Stephen Fry – the Dormouse, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen and the Blue Caterpillar. While I adored Fry's Cheshire Cat and Alan Rickman's Blue Caterpillar, my favourite character would have to be Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter. I really loved him, he stole the film for me, as there's a depth to him that isn't present in the books or the Disney animation. In Burton's Alice he's a tragic and traumatised figure, who hides in insanity to keep himself safe, from memories and the tyranny of the Red Queen. Towards the end of the film, especially once the White Queen enters the picture, we see his former self shine through and it's glorious. Depp is brilliant in his role, playing kooky and weird as only he is able to do.
Of course the film isn't all perfection. Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, seems much younger than the nineteen she's supposed to portray. Which is fitting considering the fact that Carroll had a predilection for befriending young pre-pubescent girls, having them pass out of his life once they turned from little girls into young women, but it was something that kept jarring me every time I remembered she was supposed to be nineteen instead of sixteen or younger. My other problem was the White Queen, portrayed by Anne Hathaway, who is just as creepy as the Red one. As she was supposed to be the beneficent one, who should replace the tyrannical Red Queen on the throne, she confused me whenever she entered the screen. She might have been going for an fairylike grace and an empty-headed airiness to keep her sister from suspecting her of trying to get back the throne, but to me she just seemed creepy.
But other than those two points of criticism, I was completely entertained by Tim Burton's interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Time flew by and when the film ended, it made me sigh both in disappointment and in satisfaction. Disappointment that the film was over, the story done, but satisfaction at a story well told, perhaps even better than the stories that inspired it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I feel the need for a bit of Futterwacken coming up. I guess, I'll need to go find my DVD again.
Thanks SO much, Mieneke! This is definitely a film that I have to watch!