Revamped ‘Alice’ shines on the big screen

By Lauren Pires, Arts Editor

Things are only impossible if you believe they are. And the easiest way to see this? Why, going down the rabbit hole of course.

Alice in Wonderland (2010) is truly a cinematic masterpiece that manages to flirt with Lewis Carroll’s original books, while smashing all limits and preconceptions set by the beloved 1951 Disney version, through its use of modern technology, graphics and animation in a style that can only allow this movie to be classified as “Burtonesque.”

As a child, the Disney movie brought a fantastical world to life, one where a little girl was the hero. However, the book is a completely different story. It’s a dark, twisted tale with an underlying tone that reeks of sadistic sarcasm, and Burton has beautifully interpreted this and translated it to the big screen. Despite the PG rating, Burton let his imagination run wild and included rivers of blood and floating heads, fearsome creatures and, of course, decapitations.

Unlike most versions, Alice in Wonderland combines the original book with Through the Looking Glass and thus you have Alice as a 19-year-old girl returning to Wonderland. In the middle of being asked to marry a lord she does not love, Alice runs off, in order to escape the societal conforms of Victorian London, and falls back down the rabbit hole, returning to Wonderland (actually called Underland). The conflict in this movie boils down to the oldest of all rivalries: sibling rivalry between the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, Valentine’s Day) and the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) and this adds an unlikely hilarity to the overall plot. The movie culminates in a battle reminiscent of Narnia and features Alice facing the dreaded Jabberwocky.

Burton’s marriage to Carter has resulted in one of the best director-actress pairings ever, but it’s his inevitable return to Johnny Depp (Public Enemies) that has everyone talking. Carter’s role as the narcissistic, cruel, and big-headed (literally) Queen of Hearts (“Bloody Red Queen”) is good, and she does a stellar job of embodying the character. However, Depp’s role as the Mad Hatter is spectacular. His ever-present quirkiness is only embellished by his garish hair and makeup, and his delivery of lines will literally give the audience shivers. He brings a new sort of insanity to the character that is less funny, but much more endearing than other renditions.  

This movie also introduced Australian actress Mia Wasikowska to the silver screen. Previously only known for a few short films, Wasikowska imbued the character of Alice with a new modernity that somehow fit the Victorian setting. Essentially, Burton’s take on Alice is what you wish every Jane Austen heroine was. She’s strong, she’s loudmouthed, she blazes her own path and best of all she refuses to conform, and Wasikowska does an amazing job in the role. Her subtle evolution throughout the movie is often overshadowed by her dramatic costumes, but reveals an artistic maturity that many veteran actors can only hope to learn.

Now did the movie need to be 3-D? Not really, but who can blame Burton when the beautifully creepy, florid drabness of Wonderland was created by Robert Stromberg (Avatar) and the movie scene of today seems to be dominated by 3-D movies. The beauty of this film is much easier to appreciate in regular, old 2-D, but we have to applaud Burton for trying to move with the times. After all, he is best known for his visionary, revolutionary takes on animation.

Burton is clearly a creature of habit, as he not only reused Depp and Carter, but also music director Danny Elfman (The Corpse Bride). His signature symphonic swells and heavy use of percussion highlight the adventure and plot in a way that makes it so much more enjoyable. He plays with the audience’s tensions and feelings throughout the movie and adds an invaluable facet to the film. 

Alice in Wonderland is a phantasmagoria of childish dreams, the harsh reality of adult understanding and fantastical characters, all mixed in with a hatful of insanity. Because being completely bonkers isn’t so bad, because I’ll tell you a secret, the best people usually are.