March 13, 2010

Alice in Tolkienland

Maybe it's just my obsession with the LOTR, but scenes from Tim Burton's re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland kept reminding me of Peter Jackson's trilogy. Narnia and Oz are also thrown in there. We first see Alice as a child who's been having recurrent dreams about caterpillars, dodo birds and rabbit holes, leading her to ask her father (Marton Csokas---Celeborn in LOTR) if she's gone mad. He tells her that she has, with the reassurance that all the best people are bonkers.

Cut to 13 years later: Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) needs a moment to think about a marriage proposal from a nobleman with digestive problems (Leo Bill). She follows a white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) down a hole and enters the fantastical Underland.

The denizens of this strange world have apparently been expecting her. She is a prophesied dragon slayer (Eowyn vs. the Fell Beast anyone?) for the White Queen who will end the evil Red Queen's reign. With no yellow brick road in sight where she can get in touch with her inner champion, she encounters Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the hookah smoking Caterpillar, and of course, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) to convince her. Crispin Glover (with a digitally elongated body) as the Knave of Hearts is not far behind to thwart their efforts. Part of the fun in watching the movie is identifying which British actor or actress voiced Lewis Carroll's popular characters.

Alice basically takes on a coming-of-age, feminist story arc. There are excellent performances from Mr. Depp and the scene-stealing Ms. Bonham-Carter as the Red Queen. The Mad Hatter wasn't as overwrought as I thought he would be based on the movie trailer. I wasn't too crazy about Ms. Hathaway's befuddled White Queen (shades of Glinda the Good Witch). Her sister, the Red Queen is the more interesting character. Like Elphaba in Broadway's Wicked, she was made fun of for her looks (in this case, her oversized head) and felt unloved by her parents. She wonders if it is better to be feared than loved.

The movie's Burtonesque visuals and special effects are enough to keep one entertained, but one doesn't leave the theater exhilarated. While Mr. Burton hasn't lost his "muchiness", he's usually "much more...muchier".

(photo from Impawards)


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