Cheers and Jeers for Burton’s “Alice”

March 26, 2010 at 2:58 pm (Film)

After seeing Tim Burton’s latest venture, his reimagining of “Alice in Wonderland,” for the second time, I feel safe in giving it a review. As an obsessive Burton fan, I’m going to contain myself and just write.

Cheers to the digital artists at CafeFX and the art department on the film. While I didn’t see this in 3D, the picture was incredibly clear and the environment incredibly detailed. I could see individual blades of grass, small stones, etc., and scenes that I know were created on green screen passed as real. The garden of the White Queen was particularly outstanding, and those in charge of the greens should be considered masters. The painters obviously did a fantastic job as well–from the portraits on the wall of the Red Queen’s castle to the harlequin-tiled floor of the room of doors, it was as textured and intricate as anything I’ve seen. Meanwhile, the animated characters weren’t too obvious or overdone. I knew that they were animated, of course, but when watching, I completely forgot that they weren’t real. They didn’t seem to have that glossy, brand-new paint-job feeling that you get with other movies that feature animated characters (particularly noticeable during close-ups). Should I stop gushing? Maybe.

Cheers to the model makers, for the brilliance that is the two castles of the queens. The first shot of the Red castle literally almost took my breath away. It was huge and beautiful, menacing and whimsical. It looked very real, which is the whole point, and I have the utmost respect for anyone who can work in miniature detail. The picture isn’t the best, but it shows a good deal of the structure and it’s unique architecture.

Cheers to Stephen Fry for voicing a delightfully smooth, genuinely British Cheshire Cat. It was perfect, effortless, and not some crazy screechy actor trying to play an insane cat. He actually played on the grace and indifference of cats, and just did it. Glorious. Along those same lines, congrats to Alan Rickman for voicing a character who wasn’t a villain, but just a smarmy old man fed up with youthful insolence–all contained within the skin of a caterpillar.

Cheers, again, to the art department, for including a portrait of Henry VIII in the red castle. I noticed it immediately. Is it supposed to imply that he’s the father of the red queen? Or is it simply a nod to explosive change, employed by the fictional red queen over Underland as well as the very real upset in the church and state government caused by Henry? Either way, it caught my eye and made me smile.

Cheers to Danny Elfman and his delightful score. There’s something in the choral interlude that just grabs me. I’m sure there’s a musical, technical term for it that I’m not familiar with, since I just played the flute in high school and don’t really know the important things. I think it may have something to do with how he keeps it in a major key for most of the time? I generally expect something to switch to a minor in his scores, usually because it’s a Tim Burton film that requires some sort of unexpected, nasty twist, or generally has a gloomy atmosphere to it. I liked that I couldn’t tell it was Danny Elfman until I saw the credits–and that, to me, in my completely unprofessional opinion, signals that the composer has really done their job in creating something for the world of the film and reinvented themselves. ALSO: he scored this to green-screen footage. He didn’t even have a visual to go off of. I find that fantastic. Can you tell I love movie scores? Yep.

Cheers to Colleen Atwood, of course. I can’t say enough about her, really, so I’ll pick out a few things I noticed: for the real world, she used the Victorian era, as per usual, for costumes–which were beautifully done. I couldn’t stop staring at the mother-in-law’s white ensemble. However, for Underland, she used Renaissance/TUDOR-style garments! I don’t think I’ve ever seen her do anything besides Victorian for a Tim Burton film (except for planet of the apes. But you get what I mean) and it made me so, so happy. The ensembles were beautiful. I focused not on the two queens, who were the most prominent figures, but the red queen’s subjects. The color scheme for them seemed to be black and gold/beige/lighter browns, and had the tell-tale Colleen traits of intricate stripes and patterns matching up, then falling away into something uniquely different. I kept noticing the stomachers, because that was my cue to realize what period the Underland costumes were in. In some of the White Queen’s party, they looked much later than Renaissance/Tudor…as in, almost Georgian. Just in the necklines, and in some cases, the hairstyles. I’m all for mixing and matching period elements, but I feel rather stupid when I try to figure out if that’s what Colleen was actually doing, or if I’m just not remembering my costume history properly. It’s probably the latter. ALSO. The Mad Hatter’s costume…I didn’t like the entire thing, but the sash made out of spools of thread, the pin-cushion ring, the hat pins in his hat…I loved that she integrated so much of his profession into his clothing. BUT, as much as it pains me to say, I do have some jeers for my favorite designer of all time…scroll down to see.

Cheers to Anne Hathaway for her quiet performance as the sweet and subtley humorous White Queen. Although the character seemed to be written as a sickeningly sticky-sweet good fairy who doesn’t harm any living thing, Anne brought a human quality and a little bit of crazy to the role that made her seem real.

Cheers to Paul Whitehouse, the voice of the March Hare. He was the epitomy of the word “spaz.”

You know what? Let’s just give a round of applause to all the voice actors. I mean, really. Matt Lucas, Imelda Staunton, Christopher Lee, and anyone else I haven’t mentioned…bravo.

Cheers to having the boat Alice departs on named “Wonder.”

Cheers for actually creating a new story.

Cheers to having dead heads float in the moat of the red castle (whoa, I rhymed). It reminded me that a queen who beheads people is actually really scary. It served as a great warning to anyone who wished to enter.

Cheers to Colleen (I forgot this one!) for using almost the same blue coat Violet wears in A Series of Unfortunate Events for Alice’s sea voyage outfit. The only difference is the collar, as far as I can tell. If I had a bigger picture of Violet’s, I’d be able to see better. Also, cheers to her use of fingerless gloves. we love those.

Jeers to Tim Burton for:

  • Several loose ends in the plot that didn’t get tied up properly. For instance: Alice gets scratched by the Bandesnatch (s/p?), and everyone makes a huge deal of it–as if it doesn’t heal quickly, she’ll die or turn into the creature. Everyone is concerned about Alice being wounded, which is understandable, but it’s not the kind of “Oh goodness, you’re hurt! Let’s get some bandaids!” type of concern; it’s a “if we don’t get this taken care of, she might die” type of concern. Apparently, it heals when the Bandesnatch licks her arm, and isn’t mentioned again. Why make such a big deal out of it if there won’t be any follow up? It’s merely a battle wound, no big deal. This really bothers me.
  • Focusing so much on the relationship between the Hatter and Alice. It honestly came off a bit sexual–at least to me. The number of times the Hatter remarks about the size of Alice, and how she’s really herself again so that he can….what? And his desperate need for her to stay/remember him when she leaves doesn’t seem like a friendly sentiment. What comes to mind is when Dorothy leaves Oz, and says goodbye to her friends. That to me says “friendly, but heartfelt, goodbye.” In other words? Too much awkward sexual tension.
  • for not giving Mia Washikovska the proper direction that could have made her performance so much better. She fell into Underland and was completely unphased. No look of surprise crossed her face; she just took everything in as though she was used to shrinking, talking flowers and animals, and a monarch with a head the size of the New Year’s ball. She acknowledges that these things are all impossible as she fights the jabberwocky, but I didn’t believe that SHE believed it. I don’t want to say that he shouldn’t have cast her at all, because she’s got the potential (I say as a non-actor, of course), and to have knocked all other girls out of the running she must have had some earth-moving audition. But I think Burton could have at least noticed that her performance needed some life to it, and he should have told her what he wanted.
  • to casting Johnny Depp AGAIN. For the 7th time. Honestly? Give someone else a chance. I love Johnny Depp, I do, and he’s a terrific method actor with so much talent…but it’s getting old. I’m tired of his fake British accent, which can’t seem to shake the influence of the character of Jack Sparrow. Don’t get me wrong–he did a pretty decent job at the crazy/insane part of the mad hatter. But what was with him slipping from mild British accent to the evil, thickly Scottish accent? Was that supposed to signify a switch between normal Hatter and crazy Hatter? It was a great accent, but the concept was unclear. Props to him, however, for researching mercury poisoning and the hazards of being a milliner.
  • to casting Crispin Glover. His attempt at being the debonnaire-yet-evil villain was too awkward for me to watch. From the way he spoke to the way he moved, it was just wrong. It was as if someone else was inside his body and trying to act how Crispin Glover would act in a film….unsuccessfully.
  • the awkward dance Alice does when she leaves to talk with her father’s friend. I closed my eyes the second time; that’s awkward it made me feel. This whole movie was full of awkwardness.

Jeers to Colleen Atwood for Hatter’s hairstyle in the flashback scene. It was horrendous. And his bowtie. I’m sorry.

Jeers to whoever made the decision to make the doormouse so snippy and sword-happy. Isn’t he supposed to be pretty mad? He seemed completely normal, except a little angrier than the typical mouse.

Jeers to whoever lost track of what size everyone is supposed to be. The Tweedles were only a couple heads taller than Alice when she first arrived in the garden, yet they’re the size of a large child in the queen’s court. How did that happen? Am I just being really nit-picky? Yes. But that’s not the point.

Jeers to whoever made younger Alice look like a petrified doll bride when she is first seen on screen. She looked like one of those girls who enter beauty pageants, except with scary lighting and dark makeup. It was really quite off-putting.

There are many more things I would love to comment on about this movie, but these will do for now. I do advise you to see the movie for yourself–especially in 3D, if you can. I would love to see it again, if only for how beautiful the film is. And that, my friends, has been my unprofessional, yet completely legit, review of Alice in Wonderland. Ta.

Wonderful costume pictures here.


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