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Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton has called his film an attempt to create a framework,“an emotional grounding”,for Alice — to make Alice’s adventures in Wonderland feel like a story as opposed to a series of events....

Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi |
March 13, 2010 11:00:49 pm

DIRECTOR: Tim Burton

CAST: Johnny Depp,Mia Wasikowska,Helena Bonham Carter,Anne Hathaway,Crispin Glover,Michael Sheen,Stephen Fry,Alan Rickman


Tim Burton has called his film an attempt to create a framework,“an emotional grounding”,for Alice — to make Alice’s adventures in Wonderland feel like a story as opposed to a series of events,notwithstanding the fact that it was a small girl’s dream. Sure,Burton’s Alice now has a subtext about chasing one’s dreams and about losing one’s “muchness” with age,but what’s lost in the process is “Wonderland”.

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This Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration has none of the anything-is-possible mad flair of the books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass,which it derives from. Impossible things happen,but they are impossible things as dreamed up by grown-up men with little “muchness”. It isn’t Alice’s imagination that’s driving this film but that of 3-D artists at work in their studios,turning up characters who are different for not what they do,or don’t — as in the book — but how they appear on the big screen. So there are fangs,there are colours,there are leaps,and they end up feeling cardboardish.

For a 19-year-old Alice (Wasikowska) to go down the rabbit hole the second time,the scriptwriter’s motive is an arranged marriage to a man “with weak digestion” and a habit of speaking down to her. In the name of “emotional grounding”,Alice gets to slay “Jabberwocky” (your regular dragon/dinosaur,the lines keep blurring more and more) — her destiny,one that she is afraid to face — singlehandedly. In a nod to Depp’s female fans,his Mad Hatter has a thing for Alice,and she for him. And as for the “growing up”,Alice comes out of the hole with a one-line plan that hardnosed businessmen snap up,no questions asked.

The one question that one should ask is,“Is the film mad enough?” Alice’s father tells her in the opening sequence that madness is not such a bad thing — “all the best people are mad”. Alice is mad for refusing to marry a Lord and chasing rabbits; Hatter and others are mad for helping her take on the Red Queen; she is mad for trying to keep her throne irrespective of how many she executes; and the White Queen is mad for being just the opposite.

But is the film mad enough? No,and that’s despite Depp,who is drowned in his crazy make-up; despite Burton’s suggestion that Hathaway’s White Queen drew from the mad “glint” in the eyes of Nigella Lawson at work on one of her dishes; and despite the visual richness of the film. Except for Stephen Fry as an absolutely inspired choice for the disappearing Cheshire Cat (can you think of anyone else?),and moments of sheer insanity by Carter as the Red Queen,Alice in Wonderland keeps its head firmly on its shoulders and its heart simply out of it.

A passing thought: did the film require a bit of James Cameron?

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