Thursday, April 8, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (Rhoades)

“Alice In Wonderland” Provides Phantasmagorical Showcase for Johnny Depp
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was a British mathematician who loved riddles, puzzles, and word play, so who better than mathematician Martin Gardner to write three books annotating “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the classic children’s fantasy that Dodgson wrote in 1865 under the pen name of Lewis Carroll.

According to my old chum Gardner, “Children today are bewildered and sometimes frightened by the nightmarish atmosphere of Alice’s drama. It is only because adults – scientists and mathematicians in particular – continue to relish the Alice books that they are assured of immortality.”

Disney would argue the point.

Even if you’ve never actually read the original book, you still know the story from having watched Disney’s 1951 animated version about a dozen times. A young girl named Alice follows an impatient rabbit to Wonderland, a strange upside-down, inside-out world ruled by the Queen of Hearts.

Now along comes former Disney animator Tim Burton to tell us a somewhat different story, this time using modern CGI effects to create the phantasmagorical world that Alice found at the bottom of a rabbit hole.

In Burton’s new version, 19-year-old Alice returns to the magical world of her childhood, reuniting with her madcap old cronies … only to discover that the Red Queen still oversees Wonderland in a reign of terror.

Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” is offering a reprise of its LSD-like tripping at the Tropic Cinema

Mia Wasikowska (“Amelia,” “Defiance”) takes on the role of Alice, but it’s Johnny Depp (“Pirate of the Caribbean,” “Public Enemies”) as the Mad Hatter who is the star.

“He loves doing oddballs,” Burton says of Depp. “That’s never a problem. He doesn’t like to be the same way twice. That’s good, it always keeps it fresh and all.”

Burton’s wife Helen Bonham Carter (The Harry Potter movies, “Sweeney Todd”)”) rails as the Red Queen, the tyrant who rules Wonderland. Ann Hathaway (“Valentine’s Day,” “The Princess Diaries”) shows up as the White Queen, the pacifist younger sister of the Red Queen. Crispin Glover (“Back to the Future,” “Beowulf”) joins the deck of cards as the Knave of Hearts, head of the Red Queen’s army. Stephen Fry (“V Is for Vendetta,” “Gosford Park”) grins it up as the Cheshire Cat. And Michael Sheen (“The Queen,” “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”) hops in as the finicky always-late White Rabbit.

This story takes place ten years after Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.”

True to Lewis Carroll logic – uh, illogic perhaps – Alice has completely forgotten her previous visits to Underland (as Wonderland is known here). As a secret member of the Underland Underground Resistance movement, the White Rabbit has been sent by the Mad Hatter to fetch her back. And this time down the rabbit hole she learns her true calling, to overthrow the Red Queen.

The screenplay by Linda Woolverton presents a rite of passage for young Alice. Describing her as someone “who doesn’t quite fit into Victorian society,” the writer has made Alice just the opposite of how young women of the time were expected to behave, evolving her into a strong-willed and empowered heroine.

Just the opposite? How very Lewis Carroll-like.

Depp with flaming orange hair (a reference to mercury poisoning, a common affection among hatters of that era) plays the Mad Hatter as Alice’s demented ally.

“They have an understanding about each other,” says Mia Wasikowska. “They both feel like outsiders and feel alone in their separate worlds, and have a special bond and friendship.”
Using a combination of live action and animation, the characters are squeezed, stretched, and molded into fantastic shapes. Helen Bohnam Carter’s head is enlarged three times its actual size. Matt Lucas (playing both Tweedledum and Tweedledee) is seen as a mixture of animation and real actor.

“The story is obviously a classic with iconic images and ideas and thoughts,” says Burton. “But with all the movie versions, well, I’ve just never seen one that really had any impact on me. It’s always just a series of weird events.” His goal was to “try to make an engaging movie where you get some of the psychology.”

“In recent years the trend has been toward psychological interpretation,” Martin Gardner grumbles. “We are all amateur headshrinkers. We do not have to be told what it means to tumble down a rabbit hole or curl up inside a tiny house with one foot up the chimney. The rub is that any work of nonsense abounds with so many inviting symbols that you can start with any assumption you please about the author and easily build an impressive case for it.”

He adds, “The point here is not that Carroll was not neurotic (we all know he was), but that books of nonsense fantasy for children are not such fruitful sources of psychoanalytic insight as one might suppose them to be.”

Burton isn’t swayed. “I’m exciting about making it a new version but also have the elements that people expect when they think of the material.”

I’m reminded of lines from the book:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

”How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Does that apply to the audience too?
[from Solares Hill]

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