Two Stars – Entertaining
The classic tales of Lewis Carroll are the inspiration for Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Unlike the “literary nonsense genre” that Carroll used to write “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and the sequel “Through the Looking Glass,” this film only uses his fantasy characters to create a straightforward story of a young woman finding her individuality in a culture that suppressed it in women.
The screenplay is written by Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) where she pays homage to the characters and the symbols from Carroll’s works. In Woolverton’s story Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now nineteen years old. She has had the same dream of falling into a rabbit hole since she was a child and her active imagination has been supported by her father.
Having reached marital age she is chosen for marriage by an unattractive Lord named Hamish (Leo Bill). Inviting the entire aristocracy to a garden party, and with everyone looking on, Hamish asks Alice to marry him. She runs from the moment and following a rabbit falls into his hole into the underground world of Wonderland. It is here that she becomes the central champion in a struggle between the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and her sister, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
A prophecy foretelling her victory over the dragon the Red Queen has used to rule her subjects with fear, causes the people of Wonderland to ask whether she is in fact the “Real Alice” the prophecy describes. This question provides the tale with it’s theme as Alice must discover who she really is and whether she has the “muchness” to accomplish her destiny, both in Wonderland and in her above-ground life.
Alice’s accomplices in attempting to overthrow the the Red Queen include the Hatter (Johnny Depp), Twiddledee and Twiddledum (voice by Matt Lucas), the White Rabbit (voice by Michael Sheen), Dormouse (Barbara Windsor) and the Cheshire Cat (voice by Stephen Fry).
The charm of the film is found in its creative use of Carroll’s themes. The weakness comes from its predictable plot. The final battle in which playing card soldiers battle chess piece soldiers on a great chess board with the Red Queen shouting “Off with their heads” is both charming and predictable. There is nothing in the film that causes us to see ourselves in a new way while the allusions to dreams and realities, to finding out who one really is and staying true to ourselves, are all too familiar and leave the film lacking depth. Far less than a “wonderland,” this adaptation of Alice’s world is simply entertaining.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The difficulty in taking a story of fantasy with complex characters in a nonsensical journey, in other words taking a “dream” of Carroll’s creation and making a message film like “Beauty and the Beast,” is attempted in this Disney adaptation. Do you think it works? Why or why not?
2. The conversation that Alice has with the Hatter about his being only alive in her dream is similar to the one Alice has with the Red King in the classic tales – in which Carroll suggests she exists only in the Red King’s dream. How do you answer the philosophical question of whether you really exist or are only a dream?
3. The realization that Alice makes about charting her own life is seen in the choices she makes in Wonderland. These choices are then reflected in her real life adventure with Hamish and his father. Do you find that connection compelling? Why or why not?