Alice in Wonderland

The spiral is the oldest sign of power that humans have; it's unbroken line of concentric circling is a uniform design of unyielding authority and dominance; it, in fact, conquers past and future epochs with its presence alone. It's the idea of continuation of not wanting to let go of something that propels Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland forward and the notion of the spiral, as Alice plummets towards her return to Wonderland, becomes an inspired note of artistic brilliance even with its flaws - resulting in another Burton creative tour de force of pure imagination.{googleads}

Picking up twelve years after Alice Kingsley's first trip down the rabbit hole, Burton imagines Alice (played almost effortlessly by Mia Wasikowska) as a timid, but quirky-in-all-the-right-places type of young woman who still challenges the normal social conventions of the Victorian era; however, she is confused as to her place in the world. She also thinks after being convinced by her wonder-eyed father that it must be so that her experiences in Wonderland were all a dream. Now, shortly after the death of her father and on the day she is to be proposed to by a friend she's certainly not wooed by, Wonderland comes calling in the form of a familiar white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) working for Underland's (the correct pronunciation according to this movie) Underground Resistance. It seems, in Alice's absence, that the Red Queen [Helena Bonham Carter doing what can only be described as a great impression of Black Adder's Queen Elizabeth I (famously portrayed by Miranda Richardson)], who abhorrers all animals, has destroyed much of what was so magical about Wonderland with her bitterness and hatred for her sister, the White Queen (hilariously captured on-screen by Anne Hathaway). And, if what the creatures of Wonderland have been led to believe by The Oraculum, only the real Alice whom they have searched endlessly for can destroy the Red Queen, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover) and her infamous pet Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee).

Heavily influenced by the original drawings by John Tenniel and the color palette of Walt Disney's 1951 adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic, Burton's Wonderland is at-once familiar and equally bizarre, bursting with familiar faces like the White Rabbit, the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), the Dodo Bird (Michael Gough), Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee (Matt Lucas), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), March Hare (Paul Whitehouse), and Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp in another outstanding imagined performance) and splattered with a fresh barrel of surrealism added to the film's playground; think of it as Burton's own personal tiptoe through the tulips... all painted rose red. This is a stunning achievement of flawless vision engaging from beginning to end with subdued moments of psychological introspection courtesy of Burton.

Alice in Wonderland, while it does have moments of terror and fright, is not as wickedly morose as Batman Returns or as darkly demented as The Corpse Bride; in fact, the construct of Wonderland seems to be the perfect place for Burton to strike camp as a middle ground for his queasier audiences. As eye candy, the movie is equally amusing and inoffensive for delicate tastebuds while, at the same time for the Burtonites out there, exists as a bizarre mix of brazen subterfuge railing against all things authority and regulation-minded. Make no mistake about it, while breathtaking to behold and easy to swallow, this film is a rich portrayal of controlled anarchy.

If there's anything to be somewhat disagreeable about concerning Burton's film it's that he doesn't go far enough into the absolute zaniness of Wonderland; he plays it a tad too safe and just when you think he's going to reveal his magician's hand in signature sequences, the film cuts to another scene and we're onto something else. While this trick makes it safe water for those families cautious of Burton's dark finesse, true fans will certainly want to know why the Burton of Mars Attacks and Sleepy Hollow is being shyly reserved in territory that screams for his unyielding graces. As a result, Burton seems a little more subdued this time around and maybe he's letting the landscape of Wonderland do the talking for him.

The other issue of concern albeit a minor one - is that screenwriter Linda Woolverton has taken the story of Alice and morphed it into a destiny-driven fantasy piece that makes Alice more of a classically-inspired heroine than Carroll ever could have been bothered with or envisioned with his two original narratives. This is only a concern because it drives the nonsense inherent in Carroll's Wonderland into a straight line of meaning which isn't its intent at all; Wonderland has no purpose it exists to not exist - and to give it meaning destroys the very fabric of its own constitution. The end results of Woolverton's missteps are plot points and pieces that hearken a bit too much back to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings territory for this tale's own good. The end result is simply too chiseled for a children's tale that originally prided itself for being about nonsensical nonsense to the nth degree times twenty. But... we certainly can't have a film about nothing... or can we?

That being suggested, all of the movie's faults as it stretches to be about something psychologically weighty can easily be forgiven by the overall experience of the movie - something that Cameron's Avatar weak-in-the-knees storyline could never hope to do for adults (past its first thirty minutes). There is great deal of charm with this picture from its actors and its director and that's half the battle with winning audiences over for repeat business ala Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Burton and company have made Wonderland seem so frustratingly fun and a place we'd like to revisit time and time again because, like that ancient spiral's unbroken line, we can't or aren't willing to let go... just yet.

Component Grades
4 stars
4 stars
DVD Experience
4  stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray and DVD - June 1, 2010
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
French: , Spanish
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)

The Blu-Ray release is presented, thankfully, in a non 3D aspect giving it the sharper clarity of the 2D version.  The single disc version is unfortunately short in featurettes due to the short length from screen to home video that Disney commandeered shortly before its release.  That being said, those who did not enjoy the film will appreciate the film more after viewing the special features which help to clarify some of the criticisms the film received during its initial release. For example, Depp addresses the slipping Scottish accent and also comments on The Futterwacken Dance (which was actually performed and not computer effects…other than the spinning head effect).

The two-tiered breakdown of special features is an interesting attempt from Disney to streamline their supplemental material.  Under the nearly thirty-minute Wonderland Characters tier are features that highlight the creation and background of the following characters: Finding Alice (5:25), The Mad Hatter (6:02), The Futterwacken Dance (3:23), The Red Queen (5:58), Time-Lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen (2:40), and The White Queen (4:27).  Each featurette features an interview with the actor responsible for breathing life into the character.

The second tier brings out the atmosphere and music of the Tim Burton’s feature.  Entitled Making Wonderland, the feature runs just under twenty-minutes and is broken into the following chapters: Scoring Wonderland (3:10), Effecting Wonderland (6:53), Stunts of Wonderland (2:34), Making the Proper Size (2:13), Cakes of Wonderland (2:34), and Tea Party Props (2:04).