Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Sorry we’re a little late on this one. Too much caterpillar-inspired hookah time.

Now, if there’s one thing people seem to forget about Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books, it’s that they are seriously f-ed up acid-induced trips put to paper. Sure, Disney made it fuzzy and cute, but Tim Burton kicked little Mary Jane wearing Alice to the curb and replaced her with a saucy teenager, a feminist before the word entered the modern lexicon. Add Burton’s obligatory casting of his partner Helena Bonham Carter, the universally-loved Johnny Depp and stoner baiting 3D, and you have the recipe for a blockbuster who could draw anyone from age 5 to 75 without breaking a sweat.

So… why wasn’t it good?

The pre-Wonderland scenes held some promise. We see Alice (Mia Wasikowska) as a bold young English girl, refusing to abide by familial and cultural wants, who daftly escapes an awkward situation like we all wish we could - by falling down a rabbit hole. This is where the slapdash 3-D begins to become evident, so save your extra $3 and the nose-crushing glasses lest you constantly find yourself mesmerized by the blurred edges of the screen.

Like the iconic Disney cartoon, this retelling also features the “drink me,” “eat me” grow big/grow small riddle that Alice must solve to get into Wonderland. There, we meet the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), a belligerent dormouse (Barbara Windsor) and a Dodo (Michael Gough) who, along with Tweedles Dee and Dumb (Matt Lucas), engage in a seemingly endless debate over the verité of Alice who insists (spoiler alert! she does this until almost the very end) she’s in the same recurring dream she’s had for years and can snap out of it at any moment.

From there, at a meeting with Absolum (the aforementioned hookah smoking caterpillar voiced by Alan Rickman), Alice learns of the prophecy of the slaying of the Jabborwocky (stolen from a Carroll poem, not one of the Alice tales), all the while still debating her identity with the babbling motley crew of creatures. This is where the film really started to lose me, and not even Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter or the normally genius Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen could add a dash of much-needed laughs to this confused kid/adult movie crossover. Don’t get my started on Ann Hathaway’s overacted, overgesticulated White Queen.

But I digress. Alice is the focus of this mis-matched mess, and after a violent run-in with the Bandersnatch, takes solace at the Mad Hatters’s doomsday-looking tea party and we gain some insight into the devastated Apocalypse Now landscape, and it’s just all so … Burtony. Shortly after, the man hunt catches up to the oddly matched duo (which at times felt borderline inappropriate mind you) and Alice is witness to the Hatter’s arrest by the Nave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), and the remainder of the movie consists of Alice’s infiltration of the Red Queen’s foreboding fortress and plodding schemes to free the Hatter and overthrow the toddler-like Red Queen and restoring the White Queen to power by destroying the Red Queens champion, the Jabborwacky.

Before this review turns into a mess of ribbon and CGI a la Alice, I should also address the kid unfriendliness that becomes clear towards the end of the movie. Two words: headless scary dragon thing. Overall, an uncompelling mish-mash of Carroll’s work, the film wanders from scene to scene without any real cohesion with an unsatisfying, “girl power” ending that seems… out of place. A rainy-day DVD rental maybe, but spare yourself the crowds of bewildered, mildly traumatized children and go see Hot Tub Time Machine instead.

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