Alice in process…

Instead of the question “Who is Alice?” there are now paths leading to what Alice might come to be…

13 Apr 2010

Who Alice is? Go ask Tim Burton.

pipoca na pré-estreia do filme em São Paulo, no Shopping Cidade Jardim, 14/04.


Review by Michael O’Connor

The main thing to establish about this film is that, irrespective of its title, it is NOT Alice in Wonderland. For a start, the world in which it takes place is called Underland, and the Alice who goes there is considerably older than seven or even seven and a half, and has been summoned to help overthrow the evil Red Queen who has seized power and whom everyone hates (although it is difficult to see why as, not unlike Oz’s Munchkins under the rule of the Wicked Witch of the East, most people seem to be living perfectly contented lives there). This nineteen year old Alice spends much of the film denying that she has ever set foot in the place before, and has no memory of any of the characters she encounters. Which is scarcely surprising as – with the honourable exception of Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat – none of them bear any real resemblance to the characters Carroll created. In fact the Dormouse seems to have transmogrified wholly into Reepicheep from Narnia, while Johnny Depp’s Hatter veers from being Edward Scissorhands to being Sweeney Todd with a Scots accent.

As if to distance the protagonist even further from Carroll’s heroine, this Alice is given a back-story that has no reference whatsoever to anything in the original book. Here, she has the surname Kingsleigh, and her dead father, a major Victorian industrialist, was called Charles. This suggests that the film makers had never heard of Charles Kingsley, a contemporary of Carroll’s and author of, inter alia, The Water Babies, precisely the sort of heavy-handed, moral, didactic work that Carroll delighted in lampooning. A lack of familiarity with Victorian children’s literature is not the best quality for someone supposedly making a film version of Alice in Wonderland! In fact, a lack of familiarity with the Alice books is also in evidence, as the film’s writers seem to think that the monster is called ‘The Jabberwocky’ whereas that is actually the name of the poem in which The Jabberwock – sic -- appears.

I saw the film in an Imax cinema in 3D, which is probably as close as I’ll ever get actually to being in Wonderland. This may account for my disappointment, because I really would have liked to have been in the Wonderland that Carroll created (even with the now commonplace intrusion of Looking Glass characters to it) whereas I found myself instead inside a cliched and predictable rite of passage fantasy where a put upon young girl from the real world finds her courage by standing up to a monster in a made-up one. There is at least one prior so-called film adaptation of Alice with almost exactly the same plot (made by Warner Brothers in 1985 with an all-star cast including Sammy Davis Jnr. and Shelley Winters). Tim Burton’s film also has echoes of Return to Oz, the 2009 ‘reimagining’ of Wonderland produced by America’s Syfy Channel, and author Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars trilogy. I am sure readers will be able to add many more derivative sources to this list.

However, as regards this latest variation on that tired theme, the special effects are marvellous, the make-up and set designs spell-binding, and the acting highly mannered but appropriate for this sort of film. There are nice touches in the mise en scene: rocking-horse flies fluttering about in the foreground of one or two scenes, for example, and the way the Red Queen’s courtiers all wear fake attachments to their heads and faces so as not to look prettier than her. It is a visual and aural feast, and one that I am sure vast numbers of children and quite a few adults will thoroughly enjoy.

But it is NOT Alice in Wonderland!

Michael O'Connor é escritor, editor da revista carrolliniana Bandersnatch e membro das Sociedade Lewis Carroll da Inglaterra e do Brasil.

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