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Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland

31 March 2010

I’ve been avoiding seeing the movie Alice in Wonderland for a very important reason. During my school days, I read portions of Carroll’s works as I was supposed to, but never dived in like I did with other favorite authors. And alas – my days of reading for pleasure are long over.

I really wanted to read one or both of the Alice books before going to see the movie; Especially since well, the theme of my blog is based upon a poem from Through the Looking Glass.

To make a long story short, I didn’t read the book, went to the movie anyway, and then didn’t like the movie. What follows is the musings of someone who is not an expert on analyzing literature, let alone movies, let alone someone who reads for pleasure. Let the reader take it with an appropriate grain or two of salt.

Based on what little I’ve read of Carroll’s works, and my life as a child, and my life as a parent now, it strikes me that a lot of Carroll’s work is an attempt to have serious conversations with children, by engaging their imaginations. I believe that Carroll has a gift for being able to mimic the imagination of a child, and uses this ability to instill fears that tend to go by the wayside, as chidren push the boundaries of the world more and more. In other words, Carroll’s boogeymen have flair.

My own child, e.g., is afraid of things her mind can conceive, but has never experienced firsthand. She is not however afraid of things her mind cannot conceive. And further, she is not afraid of things she has already experienced (She has been blessed with a sheltered life so far).

Unfortunately, there are things that do not register in her budding mind, that are all too real, and all too dangerous.. Safety in crossing the street comes to mind here. Believe me, we’ve had the same conversation about street safety with her repeatedly. And plead with her as we might, she’ll nod that she understands, but it’s apparent later on, that she does not. Basically, my wife and I have come to the consensus that our daughter needs to have her hand held at all times, when she’s outside, near a road.

Bless her heart, she’s exactly like I was, at her age (which .. scares me).

But again, she is afraid of things that have complete unfamiarity to her – it’s as if the horrors of the Great Unknown are more real to her than the everyday horrors of crossing the street. Once she “knows” the horrors firsthand, and “understands” that Mommy and Daddy are being quite silly after all, they’re hardly horrors anymore, right?

So, I am not certain, but I think Carroll is doing what most parents attempt to do with their children – particularly bright children who develop a dangerous sense of doubt, early on – instill a sense of fear that will last until the child learns how to be thoughtful. Hey man – in lieu of obediance, sometimes that’s the best we can do.

This is why I believe Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to be a 21st-Century extrapolation of what a third installment of the Alice series might be like, per Tim Burton but not Lewis Carroll. In the film, there is a thematic tension between doing the impossible and achieving what was once thought to be impossible. I do not think that this tension is true to Carroll, but is rather an attempt to resonate with a youth culture that plays video games instead of shucking corn next to the grownups.

Unfortunately, I can’t prove that – it’s a gut feeling of an amateur critic, so again, take it as you will.

Another couple of things sort of bothered me about the film. Depp’s Mad Hatter lacks rapport with pretty much all of the animated characters. I just didn’t believe that he was having an extended tea-party with wacky animals. Helen Bonham-Carter on the other hand, has this rapport just fine, thank you very much, with any animated character – and there are quite a few that she interacts with. On the other hand, I had no trouble identifying with any of the CGI characters, save the Bandersnatch (But only because he was fleshed out for our benefit. The beauty of Carroll’s Bandersnatch is that he makes you ask, “What the heck is a Bandersnatch??!”).

Depp’s performance was also disappointing in that he wasn’t a “mad” Mad Hatter. I think his character was modified so that he could carry the story as a narrator might, sort of a character doubling as a narrator.

On the other hand, Carter aptly plays a cavetchy Red Queen, and Hathaway does a convincing White Queen. Personally, I loved to hate Carter’s character, and hated to love Hathaway’s character. Make sense? No? Oh well .. with Tim Burton doing Lewis Carroll, there needs to be absurdity lurking somewhere, right? šŸ˜‰

Ahh.. The little animatronic jig that Depp does towards the end, half King of Pop, part Linda Blair, was something I could do without.

Finally, there seems to be a push in the movie to explain the mysteries behind Wonderland. We’re adults, and we live in the 21st Century, so we tend to demand explanation for mysteries. Sort of like what’s going on in the final season of ABC’s ‘Lost.’ Which again – misses the point. Alice in Wonderland isn’t after all, for adults – it’s for children. And children’s attention is captured by absurdity and mystery.

Yup. Didn’t do it for me.

The irony is while the characters in Burton’s Wonderland initially didn’t believe in Alice, whereas I believed in Burton’s Alice but not in his Wonderland. What a waste of artists such as Burton and Carroll, two artists who ought to synch perfectly.

Oh, well.

Meanwhile, I’m late for a very important date.

– Elder

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