Oh my gosh, I have lost track how many months I have been waiting for this movie! I am a huge–dare I say, rabid–fan of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Both separately and together, these two have produced so many movies which I have loved…well, I’m not a huge fan of the Pee Wee movie, but that was early Burton. But I digress….
Having been home from the theater barely half an hour after seeing this, I will confess that my mind is racing a bit and I am fighting to stay relatively organized. There were so many interesting thematic elements at work that combining them with the absolutely marvelous visual festival that is trademark Burton is making it difficult for me to make sense. Though I suppose Lewis Carroll might approve, wouldn’t you agree? (That said, as I have not yet had the pleasure of reading “Through the Looking Glass,” I will simply say that with regards to the story itself, I won’t truly know how much I am praising Burton as opposed to Carroll.)
First, I adored how Alice as a character was developed from beginning to end. The recurring dream, the closeness with her father (though we did add a bit of the stereotypical Disney m.o. of “One Dead Parent” but oh well), and just how she came into her own throughout the film–it really was quite a beautiful journey. I remember thinking how this particular rendition of Alice might not appeal to Disney’s usual princess-loving little girls, but by heavens my two oldest boys will LOVE it. And I immediately had to censor myself; this is a new era, after all, and it does seem that girls (or at least parents of girls) are much more satisfied with a very different kind of female protagonist. Even looking at the princess from The Princess and the Frog, she is a self-made woman who is not looking to the stereotypical male hero for rescue. Sure, there are some very “girly” girls who will have to rethink their beloved concept of little-girl-Alice, but I personally think that’s a conversion worth having.
Some of the themes at work in bits and pieces were fun: just a bit of Wizard of Oz as one could clearly see the Red Queen in Alice’s “real” life in the form of her soon-to-be mother-in-law, and the gossipy twin girls needed no explanation. But to complete the theme character-for-character would have been cliché rather than innovative. The Mad Hatter was of course an excellent stand-in for the Scarecrow, but this Alice needed no counterpart in her other life. I did wish we could have delved just a bit deeper into the crazy aunt character, but the movie was already nearly two hours long. Oh well.
My gosh, I had a hundred plot-related thoughts running through my head just a few minutes ago, but I now find my thoughts rather overtaken by the visuals and music. I will leave the thematic ideas portion of this review by saying that I did have a bit of a Lost moment in contemplating how the White Queen couldn’t harm anyone herself and so had to talk someone else into doing it for her (Smokey and Ben parallel, anyone?). But rather than being manipulative, it was clear that the choice in this case really did belong to Alice, and so once again the parallel is not made complete. Well enough, in my opinion, since I would much rather have a story told on its own rather than a mish-mash of fully-completed recycled ideas.
Now, to the focus of my distraction: Johnny’s EYES. Good heavens! I knew going in that they changed color to suit his mood (jealous!), but I wasn’t expecting what clearly had to be digital manipulation that changed the actual size of his eyes in various scenes. To say he was an entrancing character to watch is an understatement indeed, and watching his reaction at the end of the (compulsory) final battle is reason enough to go back and watch this movie again. I now understand why so much of the hype about this film was very Hatter-centric. He truly leads Alice on this strange journey, and in some ways is a partner of sorts. I certainly found it difficult to watch anything else during his scenes.
I should mention at this point that I chose to watch the 3D version of this movie at my first viewing. In our discussion during the credits, my husband remarked to me that he didn’t feel the 3D was “deep” enough for his tastes. To me, the action on the screen very much mimicked the multiplane camera (Disney’s own innovation), and the 3D added a good deal of depth to the movie. My husband, on the other hand, liked to feel as though the action was actually reaching out of the confines of the screen, which admittedly this film did not do. That said, I personally found the style more interesting than distracting, and it occurred to me that Walt Disney himself–were he still alive–would certainly have embraced 3D technology just as the Disney studio seems to be doing. I used to think it was just hokey and a gimmicky way to sell tickets, but I have really come to respect how Disney is using this marvelous technology. I have read criticisms of the 3D version of this movie (most notably from my idol Roger Ebert) that the color palette is not as vibrant and rich in 3D as it would be without it, so I am excited to see the “regular” version next to compare the two.
The scenery itself was truly breathtaking to see–literally, in some cases. Wonderland (well, “Underland” actually) seems to be Burton’s home and I expect he loved creating this fantastical place. By comparison, the first scenes before Alice leaves her real life were so simple and almost ordinary that it was only as Alice was falling down the rabbit hole that my husband leaned over and said, “I just now remembered that Tim Burton directed this movie”! Once she hit bottom, there was no mistake. Everything visual that I have ever loved about Burton’s animated films was magnified many times over here, and I enjoyed every moment.
I am starting to realize that I am rather going on a bit about this particular movie, so rather than fawn over the beautiful work of Burton’s other compatriots (and semi-regular collaborators) like Danny Elfman, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Alan Rickman (who thank God did not sing this time!), I will switch gears just a bit and comment on the suitability for children. I know Disney has gotten a lot of flack for producing a remake of a children’s classic which is probably too scary for viewers under the age of, say, 7 or 8. I say, Disney is a business. They cannot simply be a one-trick pony that cranks out “safe” movies time and time again. They will become stale and boring, not innovative and exciting, and this would be the worst damage ever to the Disney legacy. The company itself is realizing this, and producing a larger variety of entertainment which literally is for ALL ages. As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. This is different than simply sitting through children-oriented movies without cringing; I could say I “enjoyed” Tooth Fairy but I wouldn’t have gone to see it if my boys hadn’t wanted to go. I loved the classic cartoon Alice as a child; now I feel that there is a version of Alice that I am free to truly enjoy as an adult. That said, my two oldest boys (ages 8 and 12) are seriously chomping at the bit to see this movie. And I will take them. My four-year-old would be scared silly at the Jabberwocky and would have nightmares for a week at least, so he’ll need to stay home with daddy and watch something a little more suited to his tastes. That doesn’t mean that Disney has failed at producing a family-friendly movie; it just means that families are different, and parents still need to do their homework to make sure this film (or any other) is right for their children. In my mind, Disney is simply embracing the whole concept of what “family-friendly” can mean, in the highest quality method possible. And that’s a Disney I can get behind.