Thursday, February 25, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

"I love a warm pig belly for my aching feet. "

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter

Rating: 7/10

Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland didn’t have me giddy with excitement. I thought the trailers and poster design suggested a messy, style-over-substance film. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when I attended the screening to find that not only was the film stylish but it also had the wit, charm and plot to back it up. Ok, “substance” might be a strange word to use because everyone knows, Wonderland is not about substance. It is about wonder! And this film has it in droves.

I’m not usually one for flashy visual effects but Alice in Wonderland’s 3D extravaganza damn near made my eyes pop out of my head. It’s difficult not to compare the aesthetic success of this film to the recent Avatar which has been criticised for sacrificing an interesting storyline for visuals and CGI. Alice sacrifices nothing. Insofar as it is possible for any visual image that Burton dreams up to be considered “subtle”, the design doesn’t actually interfere with the storytelling, in fact it acts to heighten it.

The film mixes the plots of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and therefore our Alice is older than she has been in previous films. Instead of a child, she is a 19-year old woman under pressure to be married but feeling that her destiny lies further afield. When she enters Wonderland, there seems to be a consensus among the crazy characters she meets that she is “the wrong Alice”, not understanding that she is merely Alice having grown up. The reason they need her is because Wonderland is now under the grasp of the Red Queen and they need her to slay the queen’s Jabberwock (dragon, in lay person’s terms) so that control may be given back to the benevolent White Queen.

The plot is pretty much the plot of every story (if Joseph Campbell has anything to say about it) but the colourful characters, the beautiful design and the witty charm compelled me to love it anyway. This is by no means on a par with Burton’s best work like Edward Scissorhands or Big Fish but if we’re never getting that genius back then I’ll happily make do with Alice in Wonderland over Charlie and the Chocolate Factory any day. Whatever anyone says about him, the man is a wonderful visual artist with an incredible eye for beauty and this is in evidence all over the film. From the lavish costume design to the most intricate production design imaginable, everything here is a feast for the eyes.

With charming performances, eye candy aplenty and a whimsically entertaining world opened by Burton for our pleasure, Alice in Wonderland was certainly a pleasant surprise for me. It’s definitely one that children will love too. It has some dark moments, but nothing too frightening. Splendid!

- Charlene Lydon 25/2/10

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