Last night I saw Tim Burton’s new Alice in Wonderland movie in 3D. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read either Alice in Wonderland or Through The Looking Glass, so please keep that in mind while reading this post. I’m sure there are aspects of the story that were completely ignored or changed in ways that seem unnecessary. There always are when someone makes a movie based on a book. It’s really kind of unavoidable, but it doesn’t, in my opinion, have to mean that the derivative work has no value. So, with that said, on to what I thought of the movie.
First, as many real movie critics have probably already pointed out, this is a visually stunning movie. I was watching it in 3D, but I’m fairly certain that it would have been just as gorgeous without the glasses. The colors are rich, the cgi is beautiful, the costumes and makeup are amazing. Burton does tend toward the darker and slightly creepy usually, but he almost didn’t need to for this story. And while I liked the look of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter from the pictures I saw before the movie came out, I had some small doubts. I thought that the look was really cool, but maybe a little too over the top. I was completely wrong. When you get the whole package- the look, the lines, the voice, the inflections, the movement, the plot and character background- it all fits together wonderfully. Kind of the same with the Red Queen. I thought the pictures before the movie came out looked interesting, but I wasn’t really sure it made sense. Then, when I saw the movie, it made a lot of sense. So if you’re a little put off by the pictures you’ve seen, don’t necessarily let that keep you from watching the movie.
Now, on to characters and casting. These are some iconic characters. Even if you haven’t read the books (like me) you’ve probably seen the old Disney animated movie or at least heard about the story. I don’t remember the Mad Hatter being a big player in the story from the animated movie the way he was in this movie. From what I remember of the old Disney movie, the Hatter and the Hare were just one stop along the way for Alice and they were mostly just comic relief. I never had a problem with that, but I think that might be because of the way Disney made him look originally. I mean, maybe I’m just shallow, but I feel far more interested in getting to know this Hatter:
Than this Hatter:
The animated Hatter looks, well, kind of like a goofy, old, chinless pedophile. Which I suppose makes sense if Carroll was basing that character on himself… But for most people I think that look would just be kind of off-putting. Plus Depp’s Hatter has so many more interesting details. The makeup and eyes make him look otherworldly, not quite human, which I think makes sense for someone who’s supposed to be from another world. In a world where a mad, bloodthirsty queen is constantly having people’s heads cut off and has the populace living in fear, his slightly ragged suit is pretty realistic. And the new Hatter actually has hat pins stuck in his hat, which I think is a nice touch that makes it a little more believable that he’s someone whose trade actually is hat making and that his name isn’t just a comment on the obvious fact that he’s insane.
So I thought the look was perfect, but they almost could have used the old look of the animation using Depp’s body language and voice and it would have worked almost as well. This was perfect for Depp. Crazy, but on the "good" side and with a very tangible emotional motivation for it all even before the scenes where you learn a little about the character’s background. He makes the Hatter less comic relief and more real person, and therefore more interesting. Honestly, I don’t understand how Alice can bear to look at him at the end of the movie and see the hope that she’ll stay in those big eyes, and then leave anyway. If it were me, I probably would have stayed.
I have a similar gripe with the animated version of the Red Queen as I did with the animated Hatter. She was this dumpy, ugly woman in Disney’s old animated movie. It kind of makes sense for the character, and I wouldn’t have complained if they had gotten Kathy Bates to play the queen. I think she would have been a wonderful choice, actually. But I think Helena Bonham Carter did an excellent job of playing an ugly character without being completely visually hideous, despite the whole big head thing. There really isn’t much to the Red Queen, even with the little bit of extra emotion and background they give her in this movie. There were probably quite a few actresses that could have played the part well, but overall I think Helena Bonham Carter was a good choice.
The only other main characters that weren’t computer generated were the White Queen, Alice and the Knave. Mia Wasikowska and Anne Hathaway were lovely as Alice and the White Queen. Alice is definitely a little more interesting as a 19 year old than as a 6 year old, though to be honest the 6 year old was a bit cuter. The first few times you see her, the White Queen seems to just be a sort of boring, vacuous figurehead. But she gets more interesting and Anne Hathaway, though I haven’t really seen much of her work, was probably one of the better choices for the role. The Knave was just kind of… meh. I think they could have cast him better. Nothing against Crispin Glover, I just wasn’t feeling the performance.
As for voices, I think pretty much everyone did a good job but my favorite was Alan Rickman as the Blue Caterpillar. I wish there had been a live action role for him, because I love Alan Rickman, but if he was going to do a voice the Caterpillar was the perfect one for him to do.
So, I loved the look of the movie and I loved the casting of the movie. To be honest, in the absence of an interesting story, loving the look and casting would be enough for me not to actually hate a movie. But there was a good story here too. I can definitely see how the book will probably be a lot better. There are a lot of areas where I would have loved more detail or more character development, but because it’s a movie and the story only has a limited amount of time to be told they couldn’t include everything. Overall though, the story is well put together and I personally enjoyed the message I saw, which was that we shouldn’t feel pressured into doing something with our lives that we know will make us miserable just because it’s the "proper" thing to do.