Last night I ventured out for the midnight premiere showing of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie. I dressed up a little – nothing over-the-top, just all my subtle Alice accoutrements – but there were a lot of people there in full costume, as well as a local vintage shop doing a whole production including an amazing White Rabbit suit. They even led a raffle based on our ticket stubs and I won an Alice wristwatch!
Well I didn’t get home until around 3am so I’m a little groggy right now, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I expected to enjoy myself, considering that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman were involved, among others, and it is Alice after all. And I knew the special effects and 3D would be great. But I wasn’t getting my hopes up about anything else.
I will start with the caveat that there were a few things I could have lived without in this movie, the foremost of which was the “real world” set up and conclusion. It was a bit heavy-handed about its message (know who you are, live your life for yourself, etc.) when that same message was conveyed perfectly well in the Wonderland part of the movie. I just didn’t feel that it added anything. However, that’s a fairly negligible percentage of the entire film, and I’ll just focus on the good parts.
First of all, they did a great job with the effects, as expected, and the tumble down the rabbit hole was instantly one of my all-time favorites. I wish he’d taken it a little slower overall, but it was still a great ride, with lots of detail and a real feeling of being underground, roots and all. The transitional effects when Alice grows and shrinks were done seamlessly, and I like how they addressed the issue of her constantly growing too small or large for her clothes.
But the best part for me came when we arrived at the mad tea party. A combination of great writing and excellent comedic timing and inflection on the part of the actors (most of whom were voice actors) made for one of the best tea party scenes I’ve ever scene. It managed to be silly, menacing, bizarre, hilarious and creepy all at once, which is no small feat, but a perfect mixture for that tableau. Depp’s Mad Hatter had these wild eyes with differently-sized pupils that added an extra touch of insanity to his entire demeanor. I also appreciated that Burton had him occasionally go into a very dark place with his moods and behavior, and then bounce back to silliness again.
The acting really stood out in this. I’ve seen a lot of Alice movies, and sometimes it feels that the actors are just going through the motions, given such familiar material, but this cast really made the characters their own. Rickman as the Caterpillar, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat (which was extremely well voiced and animated), Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, all very impressive.
I find it interesting that it often happens that someone will adapt a classic Girls Underground story like Alice or Oz, and in the process of changing and adding things to make it their own, will actually end up with even more Girls Underground elements than the original. This was definitely the case here. The constant questioning of her identity (and if she was “the right Alice”), the way she had to battle the monster to save the kingdom, the rescue of the imprisoned Hatter, these are all more in line with Girls Underground than the actual book, which doesn’t have nearly as much dramatic tension and action. I know there were a few lines in particular that really resonated with me at the time, but I guess I’m going to have to go see it again (soon!) to jot those down, as this time I was too fully engrossed and then too tired to recall.
Overall, I’d say this registers as one of my top five Alice movies so far, the others being those by Jan Svankmajer, Jonathan Miller, John Henderson and Lou Bunin (if Henson studios had done an entire feature film rather than just a few scenes for Dreamchild, I’m sure that would have been included in the list too). I’m sure it will be fantastic on regular film too, but go see it in 3D at least once in the theatre to get the full intended effect. You can even make a mini Alice Day out of it – we certainly did!