Alice in Wonderland (2010) [Blu-Ray]
Director : Tim Burton
Screenplay : Linda Woolverton (based on the books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsley), Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Crispin Glover (Stayne, the Knave of Hearts), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee / Tweedledum), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Alan Rickman (Absalom, the Blue Caterpillar), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse), Paul Whitehouse (March Hare), Timothy Spall (Bayard), Marton Csokas (Charles Kingsleigh)
Alice in Wonderland, a trippy reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Victorian-era nonsensical classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, continues director Tim Burton’s curious quest to reinvent children’s movies via his own warped imagination. Having already successfully tackled the strange mixture of sweetness and sadism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Burton’s follow-up is an officially sanctioned product of the Walt Disney Corporation, who had previously adapted Alice in two-dimensional animated form back in 1951. That clean-cut product of a different era certainly has its delicious eccentricities (what adaptation couldn’t, given the source material?), but it doesn’t hold a candle to the perverse computer-generated visual treatment that Burton lavishes on his version, which is bolstered by a clever screenplay by Disney vet Linda Woolverton (The Lion King), who freely borrows from Carroll’s books and sculpts them into a tale of female self-awakening.
Rather than a straight adaptation of Carroll’s stories, Woolverton has chosen to stage her story 13 years after the events in the books, which essentially makes this film a sequel of sorts; its closest cousin in this arena is another Disney-sanctioned reworking of classic children’s literature, Walter Murch’s Return to Oz (1985), an extremely dark and violent product of the Reagan era that has virtually nothing to do with Victor Fleming’s candy-colored musical. As Dorothy did in that film, Alice returns to Wonderland years later, only to find it enmeshed in conflict and alarm. Both films reunite their young heroines with an array of weird and endearing characters, and interestingly both also feature queens who are obsessed with decapitation (in Return to Oz, the evil queen keeps a closet of assorted heads to “wear,” whereas in Alice in Wonderland Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen just likes to cut them off).
No longer a little girl, Alice is now a 19-year-old (played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska) who has only dim memories of her adventures in Wonderland, which she believes to have been childhood dreams. On the cusp of womanhood, she refuses to wear a girdle or stockings (and is thus not “properly dressed” by rigid Victorian standards) as she is ferried to a lavish party that has been organized (unbeknownst to her) to celebrate her impending engagement to a fussy and arrogant young lord with digestive issues. Leaving her would-be betrothed without an answer, Alice takes off after the fabled white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) and tumbles down the rabbit hole, essentially re-enacting the opening chapters of Carroll’s book.
Once in Wonderland (whose real name is the more appropriate Underland), Alice comes across all the familiar characters, including Tweedledee and Tweedledum (both played by a heavily CGI-ed Matt Lucas), the grinning Cheshire Cate (voiced by Stephen Fry), Absalom, the hookah-smoking blue caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman), and, of course, the Mad Hatter, who is played by Johnny Depp in bizarre yellow contact lenses, white pancake make-up, and a fright wig of shockingly red hair (he looks like a truly nightmarish version of Faye Dunaway at her worst in Mommie Dearest). Of course, because it is Depp behind all the visual outlandishness, you can be sure that there is something deeper working underneath, and one of the film’s true miracles is that he manages to make the Hatter into a compelling character, rather than just the one-note freakshow his appearance would suggest. In true Burton fashion, madness is not a form of debilitation, but rather a romanticized higher state of being; as Alice’s father tells her in the opening prologue, all of the best people are “mad,” a sentiment that she later reiterates to the Hatter.
Burton’s film puts a uniquely matriarchal spin on Carroll’s stories, maintaining the strongest female characters and dispensing with virtually all of the powerful male characters. Thus, all of the males in the story are either mad (the Hatter), bumbling (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), or in the service of a powerful female (as we see with Crispin Glover’s creepy, but ultimately subservient Knave of Hearts). Any and all powerful male characters, including Alice’s father and the King of Hearts, are dead. Meanwhile, Alice finds herself caught in the crossfire between two sisters, the Red Queen (Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), both of whom are troubling female archetypes: the Red Queen, with her oddly bulbous head and court of nattering servants, is a shrill monarch who demands decapitation (read: castration, since virtually all of her victims are men) for even the slightest indiscretion (Bonham Carter is particularly adept at screeching “Off with his head!”), while the White Queen is all airy grace with no real grounding (she is constantly posing, even when running, and has committed herself to a life of absolute nonviolence even as she seems to fetishize weaponry).
Alice, then, must discover herself by taking up the mantle of warrior and facing a massive dragon in the film’s Lord of the Rings-ish climactic battle between the forces of white and red. The fact that Alice single-handedly slays the dragon by loping off its head (there’s that decapitation/castration fixation again) gives her a decidedly masculine sense of victory that reaches a strange apex in the film’s denouement, which finds her back in the real world continuing her father’s work of extending British trade routes into the Far East (read: imperialism). Thus, Alice’s journey is not simply down a rabbit hole and back, but rather a process of changing from someone who is constantly acted upon by those around her to a fully self-actualized subject ready to take on the world (it is no small surprise that we see Absalom symbolically curling up into a cocoon at one point).
The fact that all of this underlying subtext is wrapped in an expectedly Burtonian mise-en-scene that is both sensual and nonsensical is to be expected, and when the film doesn’t work all that well it is because it feels derivative, like it’s trying desperately to be all that came before it (comparisons to James Cameron’s Avatar are probably unfair since they were in production at the same time, but its stabs at capturing the best elements of the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia films are obvious and sometimes awkward). Nevertheless, Burton manages to put his unique visual spin on the familiar elements of the story, although he never quite reaches the heights of Jefferson Airplane’s immortal anthem “White Rabbit” in reminding us that Carroll’s visions are more LSD trip than innocent traipsing through childhood imagination.
|Alice in Wonderland Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy Three-Disc Set|
|Alice in Wonderland is also available in a single-disc Blu-Ray edition (SRP: $39.99) and a single-disc DVD edition (SRP: $29.99).|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||June 1, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Presented in a full 1080p high-definition transfer, Alice in Wonderland looks as spectacular as I was hoping it would look. The image is sharp, crisp, and incredibly clear even in the darkest sequences, with bright, intense colors and incredible levels of detail whose only drawback is that it makes the computer-generated imagery seem a little too digital (we are definitely reminded of just how little of this film is “real”). The transfer handles the film’s decidedly unrealistic color schemes and characters with great effect, giving us an impressive visual experience. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is also crucial to the film’s effect. It gives us an appropriately immersive experience, with a great deal of surround activity and plenty of low end to give the climactic battle with the Jabberwocky a room-rattling vibrancy. Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole is a particularly effective moment, with the 360-degree soundscape making you feel like you are right there with her.|
|Given the size of this film’s production and its theatrical success, I was surprised that the supplements were not more in-depth. Without an audio commentary, we are left with about an hour’s worth of featurettes, most of which have already appeared in a slightly different version online prior to the film’s theatrical release. They are divided into two categories: “Wonderland Characters” and “Making Wonderland.” The former category has six featurettes--“Finding Alice,” “The Mad Hatter,” “The Futterwacken,” “The Red Queen,” “Time-Lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen,” and “The White Queen”--each of which runs about five minutes and focuses on the development and effects required to bring the film’s oddball assortment of characters to life via casting, makeup, costume design, and CGI. We see a good deal of video footage of the performers doing their thing in giant green rooms, and we learn quite a bit from the interviews, including the fact that the dancer who was ultimately chosen to perform the “Futterwacken” was discovered on YouTube. The second section, “Making Wonderland,” also includes six featurettes that total about 20 minutes: “Scoring Wonderland,” “Effecting Wonderland,” “Stunts of Wonderland,” “Making the Proper Size,” “Cakes of Wonderland,” and “Tea Party Props.” These featurettes focus on the major elements of the production, including Danny Elfman’s score, the production design, and the elaborate special effects that mixed traditional make-up and costume design with computer-generated imagery (green screen, green screen, and more green screen) in fascinating ways (I learned, for example, that Crispin Glover’s entire body is CG throughout the film).|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment