Tim Burton’s 2010 American fantasy film, “Alice in Wonderland,” begins with Alice at a suitable age and then flashes forward to a 19-year-old Alice on the verge of becoming a statistic of Victorian expectations and marriage to a loathsome lord before taking the plunge down the rabbit hole and into the Wonderland of the title. Things are dark with a queen who favors beheadings and a dragon threatening the realm. Alice will find her friends and inner warrior and there will be a happy and hopeful ending. “Alice in Wonderland” is available on Amazon Video for $2.99.
The real Alice Liddell was 10 at the time Charles Dodgson told the stories. Alice in the original stories is quite young and gives her age as seven and a half in the sequel “Through the Looking Glass” (1871). In the movie, the six-year-old Alice (Mairi Ella Challen) has a recurring dream and her father (Marton Csokas) comforts her. Much later, her father is dead. During a carriage ride, Alice (now Mia Wasikowska) mentions that dream to her worried mother Helen Kingsleigh (Lindsay Duncan) before they arrive at Lord Ascot’s estate. They are late; Alice has forgone the required corset and still somehow fitted into her dress. The garden party is an open secret: Alice is to become engaged to the loathsome lord-to-be, Hamish (Leo Bill).
Her sister Margaret (Jemma Powell) is there with her husband Lowell (John Hopkins), but Lowell is caught being unfaithful. While Lord Ascot (Tim Pigott-Smith) is kindly, his wife is not. Alice is cautioned not to dawdle; she wouldn’t want to end up a pathetic old maid like Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour) who waits for her fiancé who cannot marry her because he’d have to give up the throne. Alice spies a talking rabbit running through the rose bushes. When she meets Hamish at the gazebo at the appointed time for her scheduled proposal in front of an expectant crowd, she is distracted by the white rabbit and follows him, falling down the rabbit hole. There she deals with the problem of being too big and too small (with costume changes) and eventually enters a forest where she meets talking animals: the Dormouse, the Dodo, and Talking flowers and the twins Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
Wonderland has been waiting for an Alice, but some feel she isn’t the “right” Alice. The Alice they await is the appointed savior who will slay the Red Queen’s Jabberwocky and make way for the pacifist White Queen to take power and rule. This has all been predicted by the Caterpillar, Absolem (voiced by Alan Rickman), on his scroll.
The Red Queen (a big-headed Helena Bonham Carter) has her allies and they, the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), the Bandersnatch and the playing card soldiers, attack Alice and her friends. The Dormouse takes one of the Bandersnatch’s eyes, Tweedledee and Tweedledum are captured by the Red Queen’s Jubjub Bird and the Knave takes the Caterpillar’s scroll.
With intelligence provided by the Knave, the Red Queen orders the soldiers and Bayard the bloodhound to find Alice. Alice is guided to the tea party by the Cheshire Cat where she meets the March Hare and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). When the Red Queen’s troops descend upon the party, the Hatter helps Alice escape, but is taken prisoner.
Alice goes to save the Hatter and becomes a guest of the Red Queen who is unaware of who Alice really is.While at the court, Alice learns that to defeat the Jabberwocky, she needs to Vorpal Sword. She will, of course, get the Vorpal Sword and somehow defeat the dragon Jabberwocky and return home to refuse Hamish’s proposal.
As with the musical “Wicked,” the characters are given names. The Mad Hatter is Tarrant Hightopp. The Red Queens is Iracebeth of Crims. The White Queen is Mirana of Marmoreal. The Knave is Ilosovic Stayne. In the sequel, there will be further developments that connect this iteration of Alice to the “Wicked” way of thinking.
The screenplay by Linda Woolverton has some of the charm of Lewis Carroll, but none of the gentle spirit. This PG-rated adventure story is not about a child or a child facing the peculiarities of adults and nonsensical denizens of a fantasy world, but rather about a young adult navigating different cultures that would imprison her. Alice will not be imprisoned and yet, she will quite willing join in on the questionable glory of British imperialism, by becoming a plundering colonialist and establishing trade (under unequal treaties) with China. We last see her setting sail under the patronage of her father’s friend Lord Ascot, on a ship called Wonder as the captain. An iridescent blue butterfly lands on her shoulder and she addresses it as Absolem.
“Alice in Wonderland” won the Best Fantasy Film at the 37th Saturn Awards as well as Best Costumes. Before you see “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” refresh your memory by viewing “Alice in Wonderland.”