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Home » Culture and Criticism

Alice In Wonderland

Submitted by on January 25, 2011 – 11:10 PM23 Comments

I'd never have seen Alice In Wonderland of my own accord. I like Tim Burton a lot and I enjoy everyone in the cast, but the source material has always annoyed me; even as a child, I didn't care for that feverish-fondant sort of story that reads as an adult's idea of what a child might like, pitched at an unmodulated shout.

Burton's version is quite well done; Mia Wasikowska is perfect, and makes Alice a person, not just a screen onto which everyone else's weirdness is projected. It's too much in spots — I don't think I see why Burton insists on making Johnny Depp some variation on Raggedy Ann each time — but it does have some stunning visuals, and the actors keep things on the right side of forced most of the time.

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  • MattPatt says:

    I for one began to enjoy the story a lot more when I heard it might really have been all about math. (See for a few examples, although my favorite one isn't mentioned.) Which… I recognize isn't going to be a draw for most TN readers, heh.

  • Wehaf says:

    @MattPatt – if you're interested in that angle, read The Annotated Alice (annotated by Martin Gardner). It's awesome.

  • Jaybird says:

    Never cared for the Alice story, whatsoever, and the previews for this one were more than sufficient to drive me away. The only Alice variation I've ever enjoyed was the two-parter on SyFy, of all places.

  • Cara says:

    It may not matter if you didn't care for the Alice story, because this movie doesn't really…tell the Alice story, for some reason. It's more like a sequel that no one asked for, with a ridiculous, douche-chilly dance.

  • attica says:

    I prefered the Burton to the Syfy, myself. Better collection of actors, better story editing. IMO. But also not so much a fan of the whole Alice oeuvre for the reasons Sars cites.

    I decided I wouldn't see this except in 3D, which is not usually the case — I like 2D just fine. I'm glad I did. The trippy visuals with depth made me think fondly of the Laser Floyd of my youth.

    Lots to chew on for all the actors, and chew they did. Depp was more poignant that I expected him to be, but I totally would have omitted that awful dance at the end — badly CGI'd and a total false note to the performance.

    I liked Mia; she paid more attention to her surroundings than other iterations, which largely make Alice spout a succession of "What's this, then?" expressions. And she totally rocked the armor.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    God, the dance. Pointless, and almost embarrassing.

    I loved that "hello, Absalom" at the end, though. I said "…Aw!", out loud. It just hit me straight for some reason.

  • Mike Bevel says:

    "The source material has always annoyed me; even as a child, I didn't care for that feverish-fondant sort of story that reads as an adult's idea of what a child might like, pitched at an unmodulated shout."

    I might be too close to this case; the Alice books are among my favorite books of all time, from childhood (where it read exactly as what I, as a child, liked) through my fast-approaching 40s. (In the prologue poem in Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll writes, "We are but older children, dear, who fret to find our bedtime near.")

    It's mostly impossible to argue someone out of her opinion — so I won't try. But I don't know that I understand your criticisms. Can you share an example of Carroll's "unmodulated shout"? I see Carroll as pretty nuanced as a writer. I'm also not sure where you see "feverish-fondant" in the text, either. There's Alice's logic; there's Wonderland logic; I don't feel any fever.

    I guess ultimately your answer can simply be: "I didn't like it. The stuff you like, I didn't; and since you like it, you won't see the faults I see; and since I don't, it's hard for me to see the qualities you like." But if you want to spare any time elaborating, I'd appreciate it.

  • Katharine (not the first one) says:

    I mostly liked this when I saw it, but have now almost completely forgotten the details, except for how much I hated Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. I felt as though she was projecting an "I am too good for this" vibe that was nearly unbearable, instead of just enjoying being in a Tim Burton picture and running over the top with it like everybody else.

  • Rachel says:

    I'm just going to say that this iteration of Alice is WAY better if one is in a bit of an [ahem] altered state. The colors, man!! (see also "Speed Racer")

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    I've only seen the previews for this one and probably won't bother, to be honest. I've tried to like Tim Burton, but his movies (that I've seen) have always let the visuals be "we're so creative and wacky, which results in creativity!" at the expense of the story, and the Alice story already has that going on in spades, so…

    The only reason I'd be interested is HBC as the Queen, demanding a warm pig belly for her aching feet. That, I could love.

  • Jaybird says:

    Urggh. Forgot entirely about the 3D option, which doesn't do me any good anyway (partially blind, so no 3D vision by any means, really).

    And "douche-chilly" has me both giggling and shuddering. Shiggling? Guddering?

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Mike: I didn't like it. I haven't looked at the text since the '80s, because…I didn't like it. Many people find it compelling, as they do Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, both of which I also didn't like. It's just not my thing, and to cite specifics, I would have to read it again, which see above.

  • Anne says:

    The BF and I tried to watch it and couldn't make it past the first hour. With the caveat that I've never been into fever dream-type stories (or much of what Burton does, for that matter), I found that I just couldn't care what was going on. Maybe I'm out of my depth, but did anyone else feel that the movie lacked any sense of narrative arc? After an hour I still didn't feel like I knew what was at stake or why I should care about any of the characters. I found it….boring, I guess.

  • HollyH says:

    I liked a lot of the visuals in this movie — although, I saw it in 3D and wished I hadn't — and I really liked a lot of the performances. (The awful, awful, and yes, embarrassing dance at the end aside. *cringe*) Alice was great, and it may have my favorite Cheshire Cat of all.

    But as an avowed Alice fan, I also had lots of objections.

    Some were nitpicky fan objections — the Red Queen is a very, very distinct character from the Queen of Hearts, they play extremely different roles in the books (the Red Queen is a helper character, the Queen of Hearts an obstacle), so their conflation annoyed me. (I would have been perfectly fine with the suggestion that in this take on Wonderland, the QoH, in her drive for conquest, had killed/banished the RQ and subsumed her role, but that wasn't stated or implied.) I wasn't in love with the take on the White Queen. And I'll be honest… I didn't *understand* the inclusion of the Dog character, when the Gryphon would have worked just about as well for that role.

    And finally… the poem is ENTITLED "Jabberwocky". The monster is called "the Jabberwock". (And… I don't see why they left off the little waistcoat. It would have cost nothing to add it, and it could only have enhanced the overall wackiness.)

    But my most substantive objection, actually, was with the way Alice was written, both at the start and throughout much of the film. I guess that I always had the impression that one of the strengths of the books was that Alice was surprisingly matter of fact about the world and the experience. It was WEIRD, sure, but she wasn't terrified by it. Yes, she occasionally sat down and cried at some obstacle, or just wished she could go home, but then she would almost immediately scold herself for doing so. What's striking is not just that her sanity contrasts with the insanity of Wonderland, it's that she generally meets it with a great deal of aplomb and brisk practicality.

    So I was really taken aback by the way the film opens with suggesting that Wonderland was some sort of… recurring nightmare for Alice, that she would need to seek comfort from and suppress. That's really pretty much a fundamental reversal of the books' portrayal of how Alice deals with her experiences.

    Obviously, they wanted to give adult Alice an arc, and the whole point was that she needed to rediscover her moxie… which, fine. But I really would have liked them to suggest that she had lost it in some other way. I guess it also puzzled me. If Alice originally was so brave and stalwart, isn't that contradicted by showing the Alice-as-child framing sequence where she's terrified by the dream? (Perhaps not. You can be brave in a dream in which you are terrified.) I suppose too that some people may find it boring (or "unrealistic") that Alice deals with Wonderland's oddities so well in the first place — but in any case, this movie wasn't another rehash of how she dealt with Wonderland originally. So why imply that she was terrified of it, when anyone who's read or seen the story knows that she wasn't?

    (Hmm. It occurs to me that one of the reasons I must like the Alice books so much, and have from an early age, is because the central character's "I can handle just about anything this crazy world throws at me" approach resonates with me.)

    I really did like bits and pieces of the movie. But that central problem bothered me a lot. It's not just the sequel that nobody really asked for. In terms of the way it treats the heroine, it's kind of a sequel to a story that isn't the same one that the rest of us read/experienced.

  • Guido says:

    "…except for how much I hated Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. I felt as though she was projecting an "I am too good for this" vibe that was nearly unbearable…"

    Me too! In fact, it was because of that attitude I kept suspecting she was playing it that way because she was going to turn out to be bad at the end – betray Alice or something.

  • JennyB says:

    My husband dragged me to this and I…didn't hate it. But I didn't love it either. I did, however, love HBC. We spent days randomly shouting "Off with their heads!" Yes, we are 12.

    I didn't see it in 3D – I don't have depth perception – and I'm kind of glad. 2D was wacky enough.

  • Natalie says:

    "…except for how much I hated Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. I felt as though she was projecting an "I am too good for this" vibe that was nearly unbearable…"

    Hmm, I read that as more of a character thing than an actor thing, like the White Queen was supposed to read slightly sinister despite being hailed as the pretty pretty princess of Wonderland, the same way the heavy eyebrows contrasted with all the ethereal clothing. I sort of liked it. Then again, she never really did anything concretely "evil" to support that, so maybe I'm wrong.

  • Caitilin_o says:

    It actually really helped me to read, somewhere, that Alice was written in a popular style of its time… a character appears, has a bunch of random adventures, then the story ends. Doesn't make me like it much better, but at least it seems less like a fever-dream now.

  • Profreader says:

    HollyH — reading your post made me go "KaZOINKS." The Alice books were some of the first ones I read as a child (I was a freakishly early reader) and it's been a continuing thread of my entire life that I'm somehow the calm one in a crazy, upside-down world.

    Now I know where I got that narrative idea – holy moly.

    As to the movie — I, too, always want more from Tim Burton than he seems willing or able to give. (Charlie & the Chocolate Factory: haaate. A remake that did not need to be made.) The Alice stories are fine if you're reading along and can put the book down each night after reading a new episode — but it seems to me they don't build in a way that we've been conditioned to expect, really. So the movie has to rely on getting louder and crazier and wilder, and I'm thinking … am I out of Milk Duds already?

    I enjoy reading the "Annotated Alice" just because I'm a trivia nut and like to know those sorts of background tidbits. But this movie: no. (Although, yes, did love HBC "I need a pig here!")

  • Bean says:

    Am I the only one who has seen the TV miniseries version of "Alice" from the 80s? My mom taped it off TV and my sister and I watched it constantly. It's long as hell and really messed up in spots, but the cameos are worth the price of admission. Sally Struthers, Scott Baio, Sammy Davis Jr. as the caterpillar. And my all-time favorite: Carol Channing as the White Queen singing a song about jam.

    … which I will now have in my head for the rest of the day. Awesome.

  • Cat_slave says:

    I remember thinking that with that story, those actors and that director combined it ought to have been fantastic. And I enjoyed parts of it, but too much of my time was spent looking for Burtonesque stuff like black-and-white stripes… Johnny Depp, who I usually adore, had an awful accent and I just wanted to scream "off with her hands!" during every scene with the White Queen. Honestly, why did she flap them around her ears all the time?

    I didn't dislike it, I have even seen it twice, once in 3D and once in 2D. But both times I was a bit …meh. Not a reaction I am used to have after a Burtonfilm. I don't like them all, but they are usually special enough to provoke a bit more feeling, at least.

  • Josh says:

    I'm getting really tired of Burton, especially Burton adapting someone else's work. It really feels like when he's done it's more Tim Burton shtick than anything else and it's started to run together for me. More than that, the original author's voice starts to get lost in the gothic/weirdness gloss typical of a Burton film.

  • Shanna says:

    @Bean – you are not the only one. My mom also taped the miniseries, which I watched over and over and over (and over). I have it on DVD now. Love.

    I am also generally in love with the books. Possibly my best birthday gift ever was a paperback of Gardner's Annotated Alice that a friend bought used for $2 when I turned 15. Literally over half a lifetime ago.

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