Alice in Wonderland

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCM4JiJ6B2I

I really loved this movie. I just tried to persuade my housemate to go see it with me — this would be my second time, and her first.

Basically, Alice is nearing 20 and is going to what’s secretly an engagement party to the somewhat annoying young Lord Hamish. As she’s wandering the grounds, she talks with her friends and family, all of whom offer varying views on marriage (it’s a pathway to happiness; it makes you less of a burden on your family; it’s a trick; it’s a duty and a set of duties; it’s something to wait for longingly) before she finally makes it up to the gazebo, where the lord proposes. When he does, everyone stares at her, waiting for her inevitable yes. Instead, Alice turns and flees, following the rabbit she’s glimpsed out of the corner of her eye down a mysterious rabbit-hole.

When she lands, she finds a land that’s oddly familiar — it’s like the recurring dream she had as a child, only realer and bit scarier. She finds the Dormouse, the Tweedles, and the Caterpiller, all of whom insist that there’s no way THIS Alice can be the Alice they need… the one that can kill the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s fearsome beast keeping the rest of Wonderland intact. Of course, Alice IS the right Alice… just not yet. What follows isn’t a return to childhood. Instead it’s a coming of age story about loyalty, love, and what it means to accept (and thereby take charge of) one’s destiny.

Clearly I’m a big fan.

What I especially liked:

1. THE DORMOUSE. Voiced by Barbara Windsor, the Dormouse is a fierce warrior who STEALS every scene she’s in. She goes for the eyes. She’s as big as my thumb, and took down the Bandersnatch, a slavering beast tasked by the Red Queen to find Alice, buying Alice enough time to escape. She launched a single-mouse expedition to save the Mad Hatter when he was taken captive and did all this while being nicely idealistic and sardonic. I got the impression that the Dormouse wasn’t going to wait for Alice to grow the hell up — she was actively working to bring the Red Queen down, and just invited Alice along for the ride.

2. THE WHITE QUEEN. I was set to dislike the White Queen for being a pretty pretty princess, until I realized that Anne Hathaway was physically parodying Glinda’s arm motions in the original Wizard of Oz, including the off arm crook, which other bloggers have called at as bearing a striking similarity to Lady Gaga’s weird “Bad Romance” dance. Part of this is because the White Queen has taken a vow to do no harm — she’s literally a fairy queen who is unable to defend her nation. At the same time, the end of Alice illustrated that her refusal to break her vows had more to do with her mettle as a queen than with the delicacy of her sensibilities, especially since she is a kind of necromancer. The Red Queen has dominion over living things (which is why she can kill them) and the White Queen has dominion over death and dead things (which is why she cannot kill, but is still a powerful magician).

3. ALICE. Mia Wasikowska owned this role. At times, it’s a little Luna Lovegood, what with the blonde airiness… but then there are moments Alice’s facade of vacancy cracks, particularly when she begins to regain her “muchness” and grows back into herself. She’s vacant because she forgot herself, not because she’s totally a spineless dreamer. Plus, at the end, when she issues her “OFF WITH YOUR HEAD!!!” war cry to the Jabberwocky and that beast goes DOWN? Look, all I’m saying is that Alice is picking and choosing between types of femininity, and with integrating these different versions of self into one coherent person. She’s a bit of a dreamer, a bit like the gentle White Queen, and handy with a blade like dear sweet Red. None of this is contradictory. Don’t believe me? Better get some practice believing six impossible things before BREAKFAST, fool.

4. THE CINEMATOGRAPHY. Look, Avatar was a very pretty film… but Alice in Wonderland is more narratively sound. Plus, each part of it, including the use of 3D animation, worked to build on its themes regarding adulthood, wonder, and care of the self. It’s a beautiful film, AND a well-crafted one.

5. THE ONGOING CRITIQUE OF MARRIAGE. I don’t care what anyone says. I’m glad Alice doesn’t get with the Mad Hatter at the end. I’m glad this is one of the few films out there that doesn’t end in a marriage plot or a heterosexual coupling or hinge on true love. The critiques the film offers of marriage at the beginning all focus on losing one’s sense of self, one’s “muchness.” They focus on submitting to fashions that are uncomfortable, demands that are unpalatable, obligations that deaden one’s sense of humor and wonder, and other things that take one off the trail towards one’s fullest self. I loved that this theme was reiterated in the Red Queen’s murder of the King, and Stayne’s manipulation of her emotions so that the Red Queen was constantly paranoid about her courtiers’ love and affection. I loved that Alice didn’t need to stay in Wonderland to become her truest self, and that she could leave the Mad Hatter behind and have that not be a tragedy, or like, a thing where he secretly appears in “our” world, like that scene at the end of Labyrinth. Instead, she returns to our world, declines Lord Ascot’s marriage proposal, and becomes an apprentice to the financier who bought her father’s investment business.

On the one hand, I want to be annoyed that in this film, Alice’s dreaminess and heroism is located as her inheritance from her father. She’s the daughter of a man with vision — not the daughter of a woman who managed to keep herself and her daughter safe, clothed, and wealthy after that man died. At the same time, I really fell in love with large parts of this story, particularly that moment when the Hatter tells her that she won’t remember him when she leaves, and she leaves anyways, and the Caterpillar totally validates that as the right decision to make!! God — what an antidote to Twilight.

Jezebel offers a link round up of the critics’ reviews, and has a somewhat less enthusiastic review up as well.

I got a kick out of this review as well.

Comments

  1. SunlessNick says

    At times, it’s a little Luna Lovegood, what with the blonde airiness… but then there are moments Alice’s facade of vacancy cracks

    The bit after the “but” sounds like Luna Lovegood as well…

    The trailer I saw rather put me off, since it so hammered JOHNNY DEPP AS THE MAD HATTER!!! as to barely feature Alice at all. It didn’t even mention Mia Wasikowska’s name. I’m glad the film’s better.

  2. says

    I loved this movie for these reasons as well! What a great ride. Some were saying that the 3D was an afterthought and looked awful, but I don’t think so, except for any foreground movement (like the flying rocking horse).

    And oh man, Hathaway’s White Queen was so brilliant. I love how the Queens are clearly living up to a certain image and function – the White Queen’s slip-ups from her “pretty perfect princess” demeanour is made of so much win.

    Can we talk about costumes? ‘Cos Alice got the prettiest clothes.

  3. says

    SunlessNick: Depp as the Hatter was blargh. Inconsistent acting, and he didn’t have that same depth as the Queens. It was very overrated. And his Scottish accent-thing was hideous.

    Maria: “Find her some clothes! Use the curtains if you must, but clothe this enormous girl!” <– best line EVER. I'm not sure what I like most about it – the absurdity, or the delivery, but it's my favourite line. And the resulting dress was so amazing. I also liked the coat she wore at the White Queen's castle, and the coat in the last scene. I want a coat like that. I wonder if there's a name for that cut.

    • Maria says

      Yeah, I don’t think Depp ever got a handle on whether the hatter was a fiercely loyal patriot driven mad by an oppressive government, and whether he was a fop forced into insanity by the demands of the revolution.

    • Maria says

      Also: I think one of the BEST things about that line is how much relish the Queen has for Alice’s size. She loves Alice for being so enormous!

  4. says

    Dude, I freaking adored this movie, and I only watched it on a crappy blurry bootleg because I haven’t had time to go to the theater yet. AND IT WAS STILL VISUALLY FANTASTIC. Good costume pictures and references are at the Costumer’s Guide and alice-kingsley.livejournal.com if anyone’s interested in looking at more beautifulness.

    I would have liked the Mad Hatter better had it been made more explicitly clear that the character himself was unstable in who he considered himself to be; I interpreted him as someone who didn’t necessarily stop believing all the things he believed in, but sometimes “forgot himself,” like when Alice/Um made an offhand comment about Hatter making hats for the Red Queen. He seemed to have been enjoying himself up until then (even if he was easily distracted), but when reminded of the revolutionary aspect of himself, he remembered and got angry. He wasn’t someone who could successfully integrate the different aspects of his personality and the expectations placed upon him as well as Alice could, at least in large part because he was actually crazy. I think if instead of switching to a Scottish accent for Mad Hatter’s srsface/violent side, Depp had kept some of the vocal affectations of “default Hatter” and changed his speaking tone, it would have played better, and less “LOOK AT ME, I’M JOHNNY DEPP, YOU GUYS!” but part of the issue I think is the choice of actor to begin with. Especially with the advertising, Johnny Depp seems to overpower the Mad Hatter.

    Also? SO WEIRD to me that anyone would think the Hatter and Alice should pair up! I mean, I definitely was kind of cringing, waiting for a Labyrinth-type moment where the Hatter would be the father/lover proxy that Jareth was and the “Should you ever need us–!” line, but the point is that Alice doesn’t need them anymore, because she’s sure in who she is now. It’s a coming-of-age story that not only doesn’t mourn the passing of childhood, but doesn’t even look back, because the things worth keeping from childhood were within Alice herself. I think this kind of includes her father’s adventurous spirit and whatnot, but whatever. I WAS STILL PLEASANTLY SURPRISED, OKAY? We are talking Disney.

    Loved the curtain dress and how quickly Um/Alice shut Stayne down when he propositioned her. “I like bigness.” “Get away from me.” LOVE. I also really liked that there wasn’t a whole lot of over-explanation of Red Q’s and Stayne’s obsession with power/size, or too much scenery chewing from either of them. I mean, relatively speaking as compared to the rest of the movie and the other actors. Alan Rickman was downright subtle as the Caterpillar, and while I would hesitate to call Christopher Lee’s line delivery as anything but dramatic, he did play the Jabberwocky. Leeway granted!

    And I also wanted to dislike the White Queen, but mostly because I thought Anne Hathaway was going to be the one using makeup and costuming as a crutch, and not the Hatter. Anne Hathaway continues to impress me, and I like that the White Queen is just as nuts as her sister, and would be totally content to make potions out of dead people parts in her castle if Red wasn’t ballsing things up by being power-greedy, even in needing everyone’s admiration. I even liked that Aunt Imogene was the real-world “equivalent” (a la the Wizard of Oz) of the White Queen in her airy-fairyness, but I would have hated it if there was a life lesson in each person having a thinly-disguised proxy of themselves in Wonderland/Underland.

    Not sure how I feel about Alice not telling her sister about her husband’s cheating, though.

    • Maria says

      LOL I thought the Red Queen was Aunt Imogene — she’s the one with the fantasies of true love, etc. The White Queen doesn’t even mention a King.

  5. says

    I dunno. The movie had moments, but overall it was too… mixed-messagey for me.

    Alice was escaping familial pressures and obligations and a group of people who were trying to tell her who she was and what Must Be Done, and that’s bad… but it’s okay when a magical prophecy does it?

    Killing is bad! The white queen has vowed never to harm any living creature!.. But it’s okay when Alice does it? And it is TOTALLY FINE for the White Queen to ask somebody else to kill a living creature on her behalf. Hypocrisy much? Seriously, it doesn’t count as pacifism when you delegate. And I felt kinda whiplashy when we were supposed to go from “Alice killed the Jabberwocky! YAY!” to “the Mad Hatter refrained from killing the knave! YAY!” within the space of FIVE SECONDS.

    I think the whole movie could have been fixed for me if Alice could have found a way to save the world WITHOUT killing the Jabberwocky. Contradictions resolved! “Yes, killing IS bad, and I’m not going to do it either! And I don’t care if it’s Victorian society or Underland prophecy, NO one gets to tell me there is only one path to walk.” When the Hatter chose not to kill the knave, it could’ve been because he was inspired by Alice’s example! Everything would have FIT.

    Agh. Maybe it’s just me. I do prefer “Choosing One” to “Chosen One” stories.

  6. says

    I liked this movie, too. I’m not sure it couldn’t have been more of a dark fantasy, and I really don’t like that Alice a) forgot Wonderland and b) is supposed to marry such a fop. It would have been better if the proposed husband might have been someone other people would have liked to marry, not such a joke character.

    And I think there is not a single victory dance scene in the history of cinema that worked, so when Depp busted a move at the end I cringed.

    But Hathaway, Bonham Carter, Glover and Wasikowska really impressed and I still enjoyed the film a lot – Stephen Fry was great and the Dormouse, too. She was a hell of a shot with her needles! The ending was a little abrupt – and then Alice helped her delusional aunt and let her sister be married to a cheating bastard, and became a captain of industry like *that*.

    But considering how many awesome female characters there were, and that Alice talked to each of them without talking about men (and the Queens did, too), and how freaking rare that is, this movie is awesome despite its flaws.

  7. says

    Dani: I hear you. I loved “Un Lun Dun” by China Miéville partly because (spoiler) there is a prophecy and the prophesized one doesn’t do a thing – instead it falls to the “sidekick” to save the world.

  8. AJ says

    I enjoyed Alice on the whole, and I like how your review runs down so many great things about it. No love for Helena Bonham Carter, though? I loved her Red Queen. Maybe there was no feminist message to that character, but I think it’s thanks to the performance that there was no anti-feminist message there, either. To me, nothing about the Red Queen seemed to suggest “This is what happens when a woman wields power,” only “This is what happens when an immature and insecure person wields power.”

    As for Labyrinth, Jareth doesn’t follow Sara back to the real world in his goblin king form, but only as the owl, and I think that was a conscious choice by the filmmaker so that in the end, the “romantic” angle is absent.

    I also think Labyrinth becomes a much more interesting (and feminist) movie when you view the Goblin King as the metaphorical stand-in for Sara’s own imagination. At the beginning of the movie, Sara’s real life and relationships are strained because she’s dreaming instead of living. Throughout her adventure in the film, the choice repeatedly put to her is whether she’s willing to sacrifice her little brother (her relationships with others) for the sake of living in a fantasy world.

    During the confrontation in Jareth, the words she has to remember to defeat him are, “My will is as strong as yours and my kingdom as great; you have no power over me.” It’s something she already knows (she’s reciting it in the beginning) but she has to understand it: her will is as strong as her imagination. Her kingdom, her place in the world, is as great as her imagination. And her imagination has no power over her. She is the one in control.

    That’s why, in the end, her friends come back to her “should you need us” and why she’s able to welcome them into her world, on her terms. She’s mastered her imagination, which is now represented as an owl (a symbol of flight and freedom) rather than a king (a symbol of tyranny.) Labyrinth is a celebration of fantasy in its proper place, as something that adds to real life, not something that replaces real life.

  9. Maria says

    Hi AJ!

    Re: Helena Bonham Carter… you know, while I agree with you about the Red Queen, I think the more awesome thing about Bonham Carter’s role is that she let the younger actress shine. I thought that was really classy of her. So often, it’s easy for more accomplished actresses and actors to take over a scene, and I really appreciate that it felt more like an ensemble class than the Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp show.

    Re: Labyrinth… The reason I disagree with your read and think Alice handles some of the same themes better is that her friends appear in Sara’s bedroom. While Sara’s been changed by her experience in the Labyrinth, she’s STILL alone in her room. Her lessons in integrating her “real world” into her fantasy life seems more passive to me, even though that space of play is coded as a victory. With Alice, when you see the newest incarnation of the Caterpiller, Alice is herself on a ship, about to embark on new (imperialist) adventures as her own person. Alice’s worldview has changed as a result of her time in Wonderland, and she’s applied that to her life. In Lab., only Sara’s worldview has changed, and we don’t see her do anything but re-invite her fantastical friends into her world. AFAIK, the main difference between that sequence at the end and the sequence at the beginning where they’re listening to her talk to herself about Toby is that the goblins are now her friends and they’re not hiding from her.

  10. says

    I enjoyed this movie a lot. ^_^ Including the White Queen being so ethereal and strange – I think this was what was making her so fascinating to look at. :D

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