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.