Alice in Wonderland

As soon as the movie starts, you know you’re watching the work of Tim Burton and listening to the work of Danny Elfman. It almost looks ordinary to start with — it’s a proper Victorian setting, with only a little girl’s dream to give any hint of the weirdness ahead. But you can forget about the little girl, because things quickly move ahead thirteen years, since this movie is about the 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska, who’s apparently twenty but looks more like sixteen), who remembers her adventures down the rabbit hole only as a vague, recurring dream.
Then we’re at a proper garden party, full of proper people, plus Alice. She’s clearly hopeless. She’s at the party because some toothy young Lord wants to marry her, even though she refuses to wear a corset like a young lady should, always looks sulky and out of place, and is so pale she’d burst into flames if the sun were to shine on her directly.
The characters have some debate over whether or not she’s the “right” Alice. The Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor) insists she’s the wrong Alice, and is also surprisingly awake and even a little vicious, instead of just falling asleep in the teapots all the time. The Mad Hatter (and if you don’t already know he’s played by Johnny Depp, then you’ve been sleeping longer than any dormouse) is just as sure that she’s the right Alice, even though she’s lost some of her muchness. She also kind of isn’t the right Alice, though. The movie Alice is Alice Kingsleigh, whereas the book Alice’s last name was Pleasance, and the real-life Alice that the book character was based on was Alice Liddell. I know, I’m being too technical.
The point is, there’s a prophecy loose in Wonderland that claims that Alice — the right Alice — is destined to slay the Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee) with the vorpal sword. (Apparently it’s really Underland, though, and the six-year-old Alice was just mishearing all that time. Alice in Underland lacks a certain punch, though.) The Mad Hatter claims that the original poem about the slaying of the Jabberwocky was always all about Alice, even though the slayer is clearly a he in the poem. The MH does refer to Alice as he once or twice, though, so maybe trouble with pronouns is part of his madness.
The bobble-head, Elizabeth I of England-like Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter of the last Terminator and Sweeney Todd, looking like a stiff breeze would knock her flat), who was always a little crazier than most even in Underland, has apparently let power go to her head. Well, there’s a lot of room for it there, anyway. Her younger sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) lives in a sort of exile someplace where it’s usually foggy. This is good, since she and her courtiers make Alice look tan. She also seems almost normal for a second, at least until she goes into the kitchen and starts brewing potions. The Queens are a little like the sisters in Sleepy Hollow, actually. The burnt-out windmill and the evil, twisted tree from there also make appearances here. Maybe someone was feeling nostalgic.
Mostly, of course, they just throw in as many references to the original Lewis Carroll books as possible. Alice quotes it almost every other line, it seems (though here they’re supposed to be things her father said); all the major characters are there, from the Dodo Bird to the Bandersnatch; and they even make up words just like Lewis Carroll always loved to do. Sadly, though, the words aren’t much good, and this isn’t the right Alice movie. Like book-Alice, I’ve been quite puzzled as to what’s not right about it, and I hardly know what to say. It’s very tempting to say that it’s lost its muchness, but I’m not entirely sure it ever had any.
Two and three-quarter idols. I was considering three, but it lost a quarter because, for one thing, it reminded me too much of Avatar whenever the local flora and fauna started glowing. Also, twice I was terrified that the Mad Hatter was going to kiss Alice, and that would’ve been wrong on so many levels. And thirdly, the Mad Hatter actually does do something that made half the audience giggle in embarrassed fashion, and the other half, including me, groan and avert our eyes. It’s called futterwacken, and no, it isn’t what they tried to make it sound like. It’s actually worse.
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