Chandri: I built an arc reactor! How many other people get to say they did that?
Me: Well, I guess one.
Chandri: Well, yeah.
[Chandri with her arc reactor off, within reaching distance. I put forth a finger and push.]
Arc reactor: Click. [lights up]
Chandri: Okay, that’s the last time you get to do that.
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland appears to be one of those films — yes, those films — where the viewer rarely comes out feeling ambivalent towards it, but rather feels strongly either side of the spectrum. I happen to belong to the “like it” camp, and thought I’d share my reasons for enjoying it.
As far as I can tell, those who have issues with the movie primarily attribute their distaste to the CGI (and, perhaps on a minor level, to Johnny Depp’s look). I find the special effects pretty much a non-factor, aside from providing the usual Tim Burton quirks — for instance, the Red Queen’s large head (and, hey, Johnny Depp’s look). This is a subjective matter, I’m sure, and we all have our different levels of tolerance and acceptability. I admit to having felt a little hesitant myself when first approaching the movie. I had braced myself after hearing early reports. My wariness was unfounded, as to me, the real-life actors blended into the fantasy world pretty well. Except for a couple of instances, there wasn’t a moment when I was actively conscious of the foreground not jiving with the background, unlike a lot of other movies out there (hello, Hulk. You know I still love you).
One of the key reasons I like this movie is because of the fascinating way it reimagines Lewis Carroll’s story. Quite frankly, I can’t stand the many TV and film adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, because they always go through the material by rote — the story is stagnant, the characters are flat, and it isn’t so much an adaptation as it is a monotone recital. Forget the retelling, it becomes just a telling.
In Tim Burton’s film, however, every character is twisted away from the original version, whether by a smidgen or a complete unhinging. Not only that, they’ve been given a little extra something, just for that typical Burton-esque touch. For instance, it might’ve been enough to portray the White Queen’s floaty, noncommittal persona as a break from the usual staid characterization, but those quick bits of her trying not to gag? The two-toned becomes three-toned. Johnny Depp’s breaks (mental retreats?) into sinister Scottish burr are an excellent touch. Alice’s deep reserve, in the face of typical female protagonists’ descent into overly-emotional outbursts, is a welcome breath of fresh air.
During my most recent rewatching of this movie, I thought of Labyrinth. Why yes, there might be an unfortunate lack of David Bowie and magic pants in Alice in Wonderland, but both films, a generation apart, involve a young woman dropped into a fantasy world and taking on a quest. Not because she feels she has to prove herself to her peers or fears being punished, but because it is the right thing to do.
In Labyrinth, even though Sarah is rescuing her baby brother, it’s because she essentially loves him and the right thing to do, not because she dreads her parents finding out. In Alice in Wonderland, though Alice initially rejects the role of slayer that everyone seems to impose upon her, at no point do you feel the other characters truly forcing her or get the impression that her spirit isn’t strong enough to repel their force it they tried — and in the end, though they may hope, the choice is hers. Both women, though they have their moments of doubt and their fantasy worlds toss them every which way, are the ones making the decision to do what they do.
Also, let’s face it, Alice dons some truly excellent dresses in this film. Bonus points in its favour. She does her adventuring while wearing those dresses. Further points from mine hand.
And there you have it: reasons why I like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. You may certainly agree to disagree, and we can all sit down together for a nice cup of tea and talk about other things. Like our love for Helena Bonham Carter, for one.
P.S. I’d like to point out that a woman, a previously-unknown actress, carried this movie. Yes, I know Johnny Depp was the primary driving force in the marketing actor-wise, and that his name comes up first in the credits, but let’s face it: You can’t have a story about Alice without Alice herself. Same thing with Labyrinth. Fantasy adventure movies with lead female protagonists that appeal to both sexes? Not as strange a concept as one might think.