Toon Talk: Alice in Wonderland
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by Kirby C. Holt
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Walt Disney Pictures
Through a Looking Glass Darkly
When he first sent a certain young girl down a certain rabbit hole 145 years ago, it is unlikely that author Lewis Carroll had any idea of the longevity of his fantastical creation known as Alice in Wonderland. From movies to stage to television to theme parks to comic books to video games, Alice and the bizarre denizens of Wonderland have endured many, many incarnations over the decades, all of varying degrees of quality and arguably none as iconic as its original literary form.
Director Tim Burton, seemingly a perfect fit for the material, has taken the latest crack at breathing new life into Carroll’s classic creations and the results are, like a lot of his work, mixed. On the one hand, his take on Alice (in theaters now) is a visual treat overflowing with his usual twisty whimsicalness and ironic sense of the absurd. But on the other hand, it has a frustrating lack of focus, characterized by his penchant to be a little too wrapped up in putting his unique imagination on display. If anything, this film’s computer generated landscapes and digitally enhanced characters (plus the added gimmick of 3-D) make this even more obvious.
Promisingly enough, Burton’s Alice is not a direct adaptation of the oft-told tale, but more of a sequel of sorts, a continuation (penned by Beauty and the Beast screenwriter Linda Woolverton) of what would happen if an older Alice returned to Wonderland. Now on the cusp of adulthood, we find our heroine (played by the lovely newcomer Mia Wasikowska) about to be married off to a rich snoot she doesn’t like, let alone love. To escape, she retreats into her childhood fantasies, namely a longtime recurring dream where she visits a fantastic land inhabited by all sorts of curiouser and curiouser beings, from mad hatters to disappearing cats to talking rabbits. When the latter starts appearing in her reality, Alice once again follows him through the portal to Wonderland, and her adventures there begin again, as she curiously has no memory of ever being there before.
Alice may not remember Wonderland, but it sure remembers her. Since the last time she was there, the hot-headed (and BIG-headed) Red Queen (Burton muse Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over with a vengeance, sending it into ruin. A civil war is brewing between the Red Queen and her good sister, the White Queen (a campy Anne Hathaway), and all in the land are taking sides. Oddly enough, it is the Mad Hatter (Burton’s other muse, Johnny Depp) who leads the rebellious cause for good, and he has sent the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen) to go find Alice.
Why Alice? According to a rather specific prophecy, it is she who is destined, one frabjous day, to slay the mythical Jabberwock (you know, with the snicker-snacking vorpal sword), thereby returning Wonderland to its rightful ruler. (And yes, a Jubjub bird and a frumious Bandersnatch also make appearances, but I didn‘t notice any galumphing.)