Friday, March 12, 2010

Reel To Reel: Alice In Wonderland

Go ask Alice -- I think she'll know what this movie is about.

Going Rate: Pay no more than matinee. 3D is nice, but not essential.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Fantasy Violence, A Smoking Caterpillar, A Lady Raising Her Skirt

Alice in Wonderland is not really a remake nor is it completely a sequel to the Disney classic as much as it is an exercise in weird, dark fantasy. Seeing the picture is like going to bed, having a strange dream, and then waking up the next morning to pondering what it all meant. The film leans heavily on your familiarity with Lewis Carroll's source material, saving it from becoming a complete mess.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a young Victorian lady distracted by strange dreams and visions around her. Yet she's grounded in enough reality to want to take control of her life, eschewing manners of the time -- and a corset. The prelude involves Alice attending a party which is really a set-up for an engagement proposal. For a moment, the movie takes on a Pride & Prejudice flavor, but soon Alice spots a rabbit signaling to her, and down the hole we go.

You know the elements from here on: "Drink Me," "Eat Me," Tweedledum & Tweedledee, The Red Queen (Carter), the marching cards, the Dormouse, and The Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp. His interpretation can best be described as either The Joker with all the evil leached out of him, or Bozo's crazy long-lost brother. Also intriguing is the Blue Caterpillar, voiced creepily by Alan Rickman, making me wonder if it isn't really Professor Snape from the Harry Potter books under some kind of spell.

The plot involves Alice fulfilling a prophecy to restore Wonderland to the White Queen (Hathaway) by slaying the Jabberwock. All right, we have direction. But we also have a lot of confusion, as the various characters debate whether Alice is the real Alice, and Alice reminds herself that it's her dream and she can do whatever she wants with it. Maybe if she ignores the Red Queen, she'll go away. Or maybe she can slay the Jabberwock with chewing gum instead of a sword that needs to be retrieved from the Red Queen's realm.

Some scenes, like the Mad Hatter's tea party, exist primarily to wallow in abnormality before pushing the story forward. At times characters talk just to talk. It's cute with British accents, and this film loves its Britishness, but at times it just doesn't work.

This new version of Alice In Wonderland is closer to Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" than Disney's animated fantasy. It's trippy and weird, and still semi-coherent, something that could've been imagined by a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Special for My Dancing Friends: Can anybody name the English quadrille Alice performs in the party scene... and messes up?

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