Full disclosure: In my last semester as an undergrad, I took a 3000-level writing course that was devoted to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, and I loved every minute of it. Not only did we examine the book minutely, we read literary criticism about the book, historical notes about the book, and did a lot of discussing of the various implications of plot and setting. So it may be that I’ve been primed to have problems with nearly any interpretation of Alice, since I’ve gotten far too deep in the details.
That said, there were things I loved about Tim Burton’s new Alice movie, and things I really hated.
MASSIVE SPOILERS AHOY!
The Things I Loved
Mia Wasikowska did a really good job as Alice, I think. Once Alice as a character started finding her spine and did more than stare unhappily at things, she really shone.
Tim Burton, as usual, did wonderful visuals. There is little about the setting I could complain about, and I really liked his interpretation of many of the characters.
I loved the Cheshire Cat more than words can describe.
The entire first half of the movie was lovely, and interesting, and felt like the story was really going somewhere. I’m not actually that much of an Alice purist; I like seeing the different ways people react to the book and interpret it, because it shows what a profound meaning the story has to a lot of us. And in this case, the movie doesn’t change the events of the books; it builds on them, acting as a continuation of Alice’s life, thirteen years later. And in the first half of the movie, there is some very solid development of Alice’s character and an apparent direction that she’s going in; it’s not subtle, but it doesn’t have to be.
In its first half, the movie builds itself up to be the story of a young woman asserting her independence, both from the control of family and from the control of an incredibly restrictive society. We see it starting off with Alice in the real world being taken to a party, where a snotty red-headed lord is going to propose to her; a big point is made over and over about how her life has been planned out for her, how this is what she ought to be doing, and what is expected of her.
After she escapes the proposal without giving an answer and falls down the rabbit hole, the development continues. Suddenly Alice has a set destiny in Underland (not Wonderland as she mistakenly called it as a child), dictated by a massive scroll that chronicles all the days of the world. The scroll shows her fighting the Jabberwocky with the Vorpal Sword, and she is informed continuously that this is what she must do, that is has to happen. Alice is unhappily dragged along with this, until she’s finally had enough and decides that she’s extremely tired of being told what she’s going to do. Instead of going to see the White Queen like everyone tells her to, she decides she’s going to go rescue the Mad Hatter from the Red Queen instead and goes off to do just that, showing just how determined and strong she can be.
This leads us to…
The Things I Hated
Because then the second half of the movie suddenly throws the whole plot in to reverse and backs right over you. Midway through rescuing the Mad Hatter, Alice recovers the Vorpal Sword and is told to leave the Hatter behind and go to the White Queen. Instead of doing what I’d expect – what all the plot about finding one’s own destiny has laid the foundation for – Alice does as she is told with barely a peep of protest. (Though I will admit, the Mad Hatter being rescued by the Cheshire Cat was a lot of fun.)
Well, you say, maybe it isn’t all that bad, since everyone (the Hatter included) was telling Alice to run to the Queen and not worry about them, because the sword was important. Possibly. But once Alice arrives at the White Queen’s palace, she basically gets handed the “this is your destiny, it has been foretold” line all over again. She puts up a token resistance, the substance of which seems to be that she’s scared of fighting the Jabberwocky, not that she’s really sick of having other people plan out her life for her. And then ultimately, with very little fanfare, she goes along with it.
During the faux internal conflict where Alice is trying to decide if she’ll fight the Jabberwocky or not, I still had some hope. I thought it would be a chance for Alice to show her spirit (and the strength of her friendship with the various denizens of Underland) by coming up with some sort of innovative solution. It didn’t happen. The dashing of that hope came when the White Queen asked for a champion, and all of the main characters stepped up to volunteer, with Alice being the last; the White Queen’s response to Alice was ultimately, “Well that’s nice, but you have to fight the Jabberwocky alone.” And Alice does, with no further complaint.
It was disappointing. Very, very disappointing. Even more so, because it didn’t have to be that way. There were so many other directions that the ending could have gone, ones that would have made a lot more sense in regards to both Alice’s previous character development, and the way she reacts upon returning to the real world. Roger Ebert speculated that it’s because a big action sequence at the end is the (incredibly disappointing) safe bet. He’s probably on to something there.
But this sudden, jarring, and disappointing reversal in the course of the plot transformed the movie from one that I really enjoyed and was considering buying once it came out to one that I won’t care if I never see it again.
Things That I Could Have Lived With If The Plot Hadn’t Given Me The Finger
Seriously, I am beyond tired of people confusing the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts. They’re two incredibly different characters with very different motivations. And mixing the chess and card metaphors without any kind of explanation was something I found very annoying.
The Red Queen’s bizarre accent was another thing that was pretty annoying. Her enormous head also got on my nerves at first, but at least by the end of the movie, it had been remarked on and made in to something of a joke. I did like that. I also was amused by all the courtiers with exaggerated physical features turning out to be fakers.
Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts really skeeved me out, and I can’t even really say way. Ugh.
The interaction between Alice and the Mad Hatter felt like it was trying to go somewhere and never quite did, which I found a bit frustrating. I actually really liked the Hatter, in spite of the ridiculous dance interlude at the end, and the random, cringe-inducing Scottish accent.
I had such high hopes. At least it was pretty.