Film Review: Alice in Wonderland (2010)
In 2010, Tim Burton released Alice in Wonderland, based on Lewis Carroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Frances de la Tour, Leo Bill, Marton Csokas, Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall, Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, Imelda Staunton, Jim Carter and Frank Welker, the film grossed $1.025 billion at the box office. Winner of the Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design along with the Satellite Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Costume Design and the Saturn Awards for Best Fantasy Film and Best Costume, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, and Best Original Score, the Satellite Awards for Best Art Direction * Production Design, Best Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media and Best Original Song and the Saturn Awards for Best Make-Up, Best Production Design and Best Special Effects.
Since childhood Alice Kingsleigh has been having strange dreams filled with unusual creatures, but when she’s nearly 20 years old she runs away from a fancy party upon the expectation of accepting a proposal and finds herself in Underland. There, according to an ancient document, the Frabjous Day is arriving where it is foretold that Alice will slay the Jabberwocky. However, Alice believes the whole thing to be a dream.
Yet another bizarre film from the mind of Burton, Alice in Wonderland is a pretty good film with its furthering of the original plotline seen in the original novels. Rather than Alice falling down the rabbit hole and discovering Wonderland, or Underland as it’s actually called, for the first time, she’s returning to a place that she once believed to be a dream. With the amount of people who know the original story and are familiar with all of its trappings, this has the essence of an interesting sequel without it actually being one as the film outright shows as well as cleverly alludes to what happened the first time she was there along with what happened after she left. Rather than just being a series of bizarre happenings and meetings, this moves beyond that. It becomes a cohesive story where the characters must make right what once went wrong and in this case, that’s Alice becoming the foretold champion and ending the Red Queen’s reign of evil by slaying the Jabberwocky.
Notably though, its depiction of the Jabberwocky is where the film eventually falls a little bit short. Here the audience is presented with a monstrous character, one that’s practically made for the kind of film Burton makes. But all that’s delivered is a short battle and two lines spoken by the character before its tongue is cut off. Not only is this a waste of a character as there could have been so much surrounding it such as why he sees the Vorpal Sword as an enemy, why he sides with the Red Queen and is loyal to her and why he sleeping by the battlefield, but it’s a waste of talent as well considering the voice actor was Christopher Lee. This doesn’t even go into how the creature in the original poem was called the Jabberwock.
At the same time, while Alice is a good character, her arc leaves a bit to be desired as well. The idea of a girl bored with the stiffness and rigidity of the expectations regarding her behavior in the Victorian era is nothing new and was explored in the 1951 film. Here though, Alice’s character is established as having the same innovative and explorative spirit as her father which is why she doesn’t like putting up with the rigidity and that’s only furthered by the path that fate has pushed her towards in Underland. As a result, when she gets back to the real world, Alice bucks the expectations, gives the idea that her father’s ideas weren’t enough and pitches the idea to expand trade to China, which the Lord Ascot goes along with. All of this is a great idea and is a good basis for a character arc. However, none of it feels fully formed and it seems like the film only went halfway, such as how Ascot immediately goes along with Alice’s idea unquestioningly simply because he believes Alice is her father’s daughter.
But even with the partial formation of Alice’s character arc and the wasted utilization of the Jabberwocky, the film does have a great visual design that’s quite indicative of Burton’s style. The other characters are all fun to watch as well, from the madness and insanity of the Mad Hatter, which Depp is able to portray very well, to how much of a tyrant the Red Queen is. Despite its problems, the film is still enjoyable.
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