By Whitney Kiepura
“Do you have any idea why a raven is like a writing desk?” the Mad Hatter says.
No one knows the answer.
Another unanswerable question is why a movie like “Alice in Wonderland” could leave the audience with an empty success. This movie seems great, it has all the perfect pieces. But like a mismatched puzzle, no matter how they’re forced, the pieces won’t click together. All the pieces of success were there. A talented cast, including Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and newcomer Mia Wasikowska, all played their characters beautifully. Each matched the insanity portrayed by Lewis Carroll’s original characters; the actors added their own twist to the dark and mysterious players.
The costume design especially adds to the the characters and the setting. From the light pastels everyone wears to the English tea party, to the eccentric hats that the Hatter makes for the Queen, all help enhance the story.
An interesting note, Burton took the two queens (the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen) from Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” and put them into one character called the Red Queen. But the Queen of Hearts has not been not forgotten, the Red Queen’s castle and all of her clothes are covered in blood red hearts.
The visual effects were startlingly realistic. Alice’s frequent growing and shrinking was executed seamlessly. The faces on the flowers looked natural, and various characters from the mad March Hare, Jabberwocky, Twiddledee, Twiddledum and various talking animals seemed as if they had evolved from the ordinary creatures of our world.
The key improvement from Disney’s animated “Alice in Wonderland” and Carroll’s original version is that Burton’s movie actually had a plot.
As opposed to the two previously mentioned versions, in Burton’s film, Alice is 19 and returns to Wonderland to escape a marriage proposal from an awkward a bucktooth British lord. She doesn’t remember her previous visit to Wonderland, but instead, she has reoccurring dreams that the audience recognizes as scenes from the original tale.
During this visit, creatures question if Mia is the “right” Alice. She is told that she must dethrone the Red Queen’s champion by slaying the Jabberwocky. No, the Jabberwocky isn’t the amazing dance crew, but insted a terrifying monster. This creature is ink black and physically looks like a mix of Harry Potter’s Basilisk and Hungarian Horntail with a twist of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Kracken. She is absolutely horrified by the thought of killing the creature, but by the end of the movie…. Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
Another massive improvement is the character development throughout the movie. The audience is introduced to the villainous Red Queen, but they are also shown a vulnerable side when she is standing with the Knave is Hearts (Crispin Glover) standing above the moat full of blood and severed heads (remember the famous “off with their heads!”?) when she says, “Is it not better to be feared than loved?”
However, Anne Hathaways’ performance of the White Queen was quite confusing. She is supposed to be the savior of Wonderland, but she frequently comes off as an air-headed but kinder version of her older sister, the Red Queen. At some points, she seems heartless and spoiled like a little kid who can’t get her third cookie. At other times she seems wise beyond her years, like when comforting one of the talking bloodhounds.
A second adaption is to the Mad Hatter. Depp adds a kind of tortured-soul depth to it, similar to Anakin Skywalker in the third “Star Wars” movie. A flashback shows the audience the Hatter’s previous sanity. This character matures in leaps and bounds, but not all of the leaps are positive. The Hatter develops a type of not-so-innocent fondness for Alice. It’s not the fatherly love many would expect, but more like that creepy kid in the halls that always makes awkwardly intense eye contact.
The comparison starts to push the film into a realm of grey. Throughout the movie, it seems like there is a vital piece of information that everyone seems to know. Hence they know what’s happening and why. However, the audience comes in just three seconds too late and has to try and figure out what is happening.
Finally, throughout the oddities, a pattern emerges. In the frequent bursts of fighting, the person who is injured is always hurt in the eye. The symbolism seems to suggest that things are not what they seem. Between the muted colors, the character twists, changing alliances and whimsical outfits, no one can put this puzzle of a film together.