There's been a lot of discussion swirling around about the new Alice movie as to whether it is any good or not, and I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring among others, if only as a writing exercise in a different venue.
I thought it was a fun film. I was entertained and even enchanted, which says something considering the glut of CGI films out there. What computer wizardry has been able to create with such relative ease has set the bar a little higher on originality, particularly when it comes to Tim Burton, who has struggled in recent times to create a film that is not a facsimile of his previous work in terms of weird characters running around in black and white stripes.
Burton does have the usual roundup of actors, with a wonderful performance by Helena Bonham Carter as the narcissistic Red Queen (a combination of the Red Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass and the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland...not too much of a stretch) and Depp as, what else, the Mad Hatter. Depp doesn't do a particularly convincing job of being mad, but that is all right, because in this case he's a supporting character rather than the sun the movie revolves around - a welcome change, I found. In truth, it is the side characters that tend to carry this movie, with an absolutely irresistible Cheshire cat with a smile like Jack Skellington that almost splits his head in two, with luminous eyes that shine out of the night sky. He rolls in and out of the screen with a grace that is accompanied wonderfully by the velvety voice of Stephen Fry and has a penchant for disappearing in wispy strands of blue. Anne Hathaway also does a memorable turn as the White Queen, with her royal grace accentuated by rather neurotic tendencies (like potion-making), making her equally as lovable.
There is no dirth of strong female characters in this film, which is something that is particularly appealing to me. When Alice burst out of the Red Queen's palace on the back of the Bandersnatch, a great, large spotted beast that looks like a cross between an ocelot and a polar bear, the Cheshire cat inside of me smiled wide. Each character, no matter how small, is given heart, personality, and depth rather than simply being so much CG confection filling up the screen.
Alas, this is where the magic ends. Burton suffers from a lack of the big picture. His most successful works are close in, painfully detailed small stories that work in worlds that have boundaries and limits. Edward Scissorhands, one of his most beautiful pieces, is about a kind misunderstood creature plopped in a conservative Florida suburb. The entire story takes place in this suburb. The Nightmare Before Christmas takes place in very specific worlds with very specific boundaries - and the stop-motion creative process close in by its very nature.
Unfortunately that bodes ill for a place like Wonderland, whose only boundaries are one's own imagination. Underland, as Burton calls it, looks like a bombed out shell of its former self, save a few green tendrils Alice encounters on the way in. We don't really get to see much of the place and frankly there isn't much there to see due to the Red Queen burning the hell out of everything with her fire-spewing beast, the Jabberwocky. How much more rich the film could have been if only Burton could have looked up from his computer screen and tried to see his Wonderland from a bird's eye view. I also missed certain characters - I was hoping the talking flowers could have had more than a few moments in the sun before getting trampled over by death and destruction.
But setting aside all it could have been, what we do have still makes for a lot of fun. The story is well thought out and I liked the intensity of this older, warier Alice. and there is something to be said for a bold step in another direction. The title "Alice in Wonderland" is misleading because it is not the Alice we once knew. But the Alice we are given isn't so bad, either.