Thursday, March 11, 2010

“Alice in Wonderland” – Thankfully, not “Johhny Depp in Wonderland”

My faith has now been renewed in two things. The first is that there are still some children out there who don’t deserve to be punched in the face because their parents are still parenting. The theater was filled with children and they were all quiet and well-behaved. Conversely, when I saw “The Lightning Thief” a couple weeks ago, some kids were talking and there was a girl behind me who felt the need to spray some nasty smelling perfume every minute for the entire film while her parents plowed through their giant popcorn. I don’t think it would have been wrong to relieve my popcorn-perfume nausea onto their laps.

The second thing is that Tim Burton can still make a good film. You should know that I haven’t seen “Corpse Bride” or “Sweeney Todd,” either of which could have been really good, but I wouldn’t know, because I did see his remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” That movie sucked on so many levels that I wasn’t sure I could ever stomach a Burton film again. In addition, I can’t remember the last film he made that didn’t star Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter or both of them, which makes me wonder if he even actively directs his films any more. “Alice in Wonderland” is one of my favorite stories of all time, so I had to risk that he still had some talent left.

Admittedly, I was very worried after the first fifteen minutes. The film was playing out almost exactly like the Disney cartoon, up until the part where she is trying to unlock the door and can’t reach the key because she is too small. As this played out, I thought “If this is just a 3D remake of the cartoon, I’m going to be really pissed.” Almost as if the movie heard me, the scene changes to someone peering at Alice through the keyhole and wondering why she doesn’t remember doing this before. I audibly sighed, relaxed, and enjoyed the rest of an incredibly imaginative and entertaining film.

After the scene change I was describing, Alice finally makes her way through the door and is greeted by nearly all of the familiar characters of Wonderland. They debate whether or not she is the real Alice and tell her that she must slay the Jabberwocky in order to save Wonderland from the Red Queen. The rest of the film is Alice’s journey through Wonderland on her way to the final battle. Like the rest of the characters, this plot is very familiar to us, but both plot and characters are tweaked just enough for us to see them as new and enjoy them again. Well almost all of the characters.

As I said before, Depp and Carter being cast as the Mad Hatter and Red Queen, respectively, was cause for concern. Even more so, they were featured in every piece of marketing and trailer that Alice almost seemed like an afterthought. As proof of this, the end credits list Mia Wasikowska (Alice) fifth, behind Depp, Carter, Anne Hathaway (White Queen), and Crispin Glover (Stayne). Seriously, Crispin Glover. Depp proved to be nearly as good as usual, with the exception of giving Hatter a lisp in one of his personalities. Yes, Hatter has at least two personalities; after all, he is quite mad. He also manages not to steal the attention from Alice, which would have detracted from the film. Unfortunately, Carter was nowhere near as good as Depp.

Apparently, Carter is fully intent on taking advantage of her “domestic partnership” with Tim Burton. Her scenes are very unmemorable, but only because of the way she portrays her character. It seemed as if she was trying to overshadow Depp by trying to create a bigger, more outrageous character than anyone in the film. She fails miserably, basically screeching her way through her lines and it becomes obvious early on that she was terribly miscast. I know she’s giving it up to Burton, but he really needs to pay attention to things like this. At the very least, he should have told her tone it down and make the character believably evil. Maybe he doesn’t realize he can withhold sex too. Or maybe he relished in the irony of her character’s gigantic head.

Luckily, the rest of the cast more than made up for the stains left by Carter. Alan Rickman (Caterpillar) and Hathaway were fantastic, even though their parts were fairly small, but Wasikowska outshined them all. It’s always a great thing for a movie when an unknown actor can carry a film as the lead character without help from the more well-known actors.

Even with the annoyance of Carter, this was an excellent film. In addition to all of the great characters, the scenery was every bit as good as you would expect from Burton’s imagination and if that wasn’t enough, the music was so good, thanks to Danny Elfman (naturally), that I didn’t leave the theater until the credits quit rolling. Maybe that’s what really kept the kids so quiet.

Rating: The 3D was not worth the extra three dollars, but it doesn’t really matter since I would have paid twice the full price for this film. Even after all the screeching.

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