The new adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by director Tim Burton, proves to show many that Disney can be a little darker than many would think. With films like Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow, not to mention his general demeanor, Tim Burton has made his name synonymous with the dark and eerily creepy. The fact that Disney, a kid-friendly company, would go along with scenes of little, blond-haired Alice hopping from decapitated head to decapitated head to get across a moat and a blue caterpillar smoking from a hookah would make most tilt their heads to the side and say “Really?”. While watching this film I found it easy to forget, until after it was over, that this is not the first time Disney has made a visual version of Alice in Wonderland.
It becomes very obvious that Tim Burton is the director of this film when there are trees with gnarled branches to look like fingers and vibrantly neutral colors. The story consists of a twenty-year old Alice who goes back to Underland (the real name of Wonderland) and follows her destiny to save everyone from the tyrannical rule of the Red Queen and restore power to the very peaceful White Queen. The point is made very clear that this film is about Alice’s return to Wonderland and not a remake of the original story, which makes one wonder why a different title was not chosen. The film gives many references to the actual happenings that are found in the book; such as Alice suggesting to her fiancés mother that her white roses should be painted red so that she can have the ones she wanted. Also, there is a montage toward the ending of the film showing the original occurrences of Carroll’s story that appropriately sums up what is needed for the audience to know.
What many potential audience members will want to know about is the performance that Johnny Depp gives as The Mad Hatter. Given that The Mad Hatter is supposed to be somewhat of a tortured soul, Depp is able to show audiences the character’s suffering, and slight insanity, and transform it into a performance that grabs the audience with a loose grip. Depp’s accent for the character does seem to vary at times between British to Scottish apparently without reason, taking away from the film slightly. The actress playing Alice, Mia Wasikowska, will likely be forgotten for her place in this film but does show some potential for improvement and should be looked for in future films. Alan Rickman voices the hookah-smoking, blue caterpillar named Absalom, with a wisdom and superiority that most grandparents use to shower on younger generations. Helena Bonham Carter, a staple of any Tim Burton film, gives a memorable performance as the Red Queen by seeming oddly destined for a role where the character is like a bratty child in control of toy soldiers.
One of the truly great triumphs of Burton’s film is the wardrobe of costumes shown throughout. At the beginning and end of the film wonderful, Victorian-style suits and dresses are shown, paying homage to the time frame in which Carroll’s work was published. Alice’s famous dress from the animated film of days passed is slightly altered by removing the section of white from the front and making it all blue. She is also given a new dress that is typical of the Burton technique, an asymmetrical, red dress with white frills showing black stripes, recalling films like Beetlejuice.
Another amazing aspect of the film is the animation that is so vibrant, real, and innovative. The fact that such a dark-minded film director uses colors that are so vibrant and hit viewers in the face like a baseball bat is innovative in itself, but when the same director uses this technique in conjunction with making his wife, Helena Bonham Carter, into another person with a completely different build, he does enough to make anyone stand back and say “wow!”. When simply watching the film, the viewer gets the sense that close up shots were taken of the actress’ face then digitally added to a computer model of the Red Queen’s body. The two are seemingly melded together and blend perfectly into one another. The mad intensity of colors that are used during Alice’s time at the home of the White Queen makes the screen seem to glow like a portal to heaven. Burton uses the color white on everything in sight, from Anne Hathaway’s hair and dress to the stones supporting the walls of the castle and takes the intensity beyond natural limits to add to the goodness and purity of the character and all her intentions.
Overall, the visual fire that is ignited from the start of the movie burns away the small glitches that are found in the acting and consume the audience in its warm magic. Some of the Victorianly dry comedic aspects may fall flat but the sheer insanity of the Mad Hatter’s dark humor takes control. Disney may have taken a dark route with Mr. Burton, but considering the visual wonder that has been created, I tip my hat.