3/9/10

Alice in Wonderland

The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp)Image by Brian Sibley via Flickr
I'm terribly late, I know... naughty. Last Friday Tim Burton showed us what he thinks Wonderland looks like. It looks fantastic! Unfortunately, it suffers from a bit of the same problems Avatar has. It's a wonderfully beautiful fantastical world, with just an ok story. I do hope this isn't becoming a trend. To be clear from the start: this is not the same Alice in Wonderland that we read as a kid or saw vibrantly displayed as a Disney cartoon. Burton's Alice is a sort of sequel to that story. That's kind of a minor spoiler, but I think it's important enough to know going into the movie. You're not going to see the same thing you saw then. What we see crafted here is a completely new story wherein Alice must find the strength to be herself and make her own decisions. It's basically the same old Tim Burton storyline: "Forget what the establishment says, be creative, break out of the mundane and be your own gothic, eccentric self."

The thing about this story is that it's been done over and over and over. The only thing different about it is that it's set in Wonderland. It tries to be a sort of Hero's Journey type of tale where the no-account, inconsequential protagonist finds herself and who she really is through a series of formative events eventually meeting her destiny in an epic battle and regaining her muchness, coming back to reality with the ability to face her decisions and form her own life. (Side note: the spell checker didn't catch "muchness." That's a word??) Is that a spoiler? I'm not sure if it's possible to spoil something that obvious.

But what it lacks in a compelling story, it makes up for in pretty much everything else. I've always been a fan of Burton's eccentric and unique style, and while Wonderland may calm that style a bit, it still captures a maddeningly, deliciously absurd sort of world quite fantastically. Over the weekend, it made $116.3 million, and I'm sure that's not because of the story. Wonderland is a perfect match with Burton. The sense of adventure and thrill and curiosity that presents itself in this movie is more than enough to draw huge crowds. We want to see magical worlds and fantastic battles and huge jabberwockies being slain by ordinary people.  In fact, the Hero's Journey is so popular because of all these elements. It takes you out of the land of the ordinary and thrusts you into an exciting world of magic, chaos and at least 6 impossible things. People want to see this and they don't care if the story holds up to support it very well. In this case, the story basically acts as a frame to hold the picture in place instead of part of the picture itself.

So, here's the conclusion on Alice in Wonderland: it's definitely something you should see, but it's not something you really need to remember. Bring your kids, have a fun time, buy some popcorn and slap a smile on that face, but this isn't a movie that will be winning any great awards. And don't feel like "aw, that's a shame," either. Honestly, it's a really fun and exciting movie - not a shame at all. I just don't feel like it'll hold up and withstand the test of time. That's all. Nothing more, nothing less.