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London Premiere. Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

The Auteurs Daily

Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, set to open pretty much worldwide next week, saw its world premiere in London last night. Here's a roundup of first impressions, plus notes on why theaters are ticked off at Disney, interviews and a brief history of Alice's onscreen adventures.

Writing in the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab finds Alice to be "a wildly inventive film straitjacketed in conventional narrative form. This version of Alice, scripted by Linda Woolverton, takes Lewis Carroll's young heroine and turns her into a beautiful 19-year-old girl. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is about to be forced into an arranged marriage with a priggish, nose-picking English toff called Hamish Ascot (Leo Bill). Given the formalities and hypocrisy in the Victorian England depicted at the start of the film, it's little wonder that Alice is so eager to fall down the rabbit hole."

"Alice in Wonderland whisks 3D live action with animation, antique storybook illustrations with the aesthetics of an 80s goth video," writes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Does it amount to anything more than a dizzy whirl? Well, possibly not. Here is a film in which the art direction eats the magic cake and swells to giant proportions, while the script drinks from the magic vial and shrinks away to insignificance. But no one ever looked to Burton for nuanced human drama and stately character development. Instead, we turn to him for flamboyance, spectacle and a benign whiff of madness. Alice in Wonderland provides all that in abundance."

"[E]ven the filmmaker's trademark winsomely outlandish style doesn't prepare you for the thoroughly enjoyable spectacle that is his Alice in Wonderland," writes Michael Rechtshaffen in the Hollywood Reporter. "[T]aking their cues from John Tenniel's original illustrations, Robert Stromberg's fanciful production design and costume designer Colleen Atwood's ever-inspired wardrobe selection help make it quite the trippy trip."

"Each scene offers a British luvvie in phantasmagorical disguise," notes Kate Muir in the Times. "Alan Rickman voices the caterpillar, and perhaps inevitably the Cheshire Cat speaks with the smug voice of Stephen Fry. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are a digitally manipulated Matt Lucas, and Paul Whitehouse is the disturbed March Hare, prone to throwing crockery. The squeaky dormouse, who pokes out the Bandersnatch's eyeball with a needle, is our very own Barbara Windsor. Unfortunately, Johnny Depp has too much of Willy Wonka lingering about him as he plays the Mad Hatter, who is promoted to a modern buddy role with Alice. Anne Hathaway's character as the White Queen was, said Burton, based on Nigella Lawson. This running joke becomes clear in the lipsmacking potion scene."

"Resembling a kewpie doll tyrant, [Helena Bonham] Carter tears into her 'Off with their heads' catchphrase with surreal ferocity," writes Hugh Hart for Wired News. "Underscored by composer Danny Elfman's plush orchestrations, Alice treads an extravagantly visual path between waking dreams and comatose realities. At one point, she comforts Depp's despondent Hatter with advice she'd once heard from her late father: 'You're entirely bonkers, but let me tell you a secret: All the best people are.'"

We can't see Variety's Todd McCarthy behind that pay wall, but Anne Thompson can and notes that he finds the film "visually compelling but unexpectedly conventional."

"I'll get to see the film for the first time on Monday, and really look forward to it," blogs screenwriter John August. "With that clarification out of the way, let me explain a strange fact of my career: I've not written Alice in Wonderland three times. It's a recurring motif."

"Theater owners are mad, as in angry, about Disney's decision to shorten the period between the film's opening and its release on DVD (to three months instead of the usual four or more). And some chains have even threatened to boycott the movie because they fear that this strategy will train people to wait for movies on DVD or on-demand rather than seeing them in theaters." Kim Masters has background on the brouhaha in the Daily Beast and David Poland has the latest: "Disney is busy selling the notion that it won some victory... But it's not quite that simple."

Mark Salisbury interviews Burton and Depp for the Telegraph. Danny Elfman talks with Burton for Interview, Gill Pringle for the Independent. In the Guardian, Alice Fisher talks with Mia Wasikowska, Simon Hattenstone with Helena Bonham Carter.

Click on any of the Los Angeles Times stories on Alice - Gerrick Kennedy's interview with character designer Michael Kutsche, for example - and at the bottom of the page, you'll find a menu for their big bundle of related pieces.

Gary Cahall at MovieFanFare: "Alice's Adventures in Filmland 1903 - 1949." More from Stephen Saito at IFC - with clips.



Updates: "Two extravagantly gifted filmmakers whose gothic whimsy (Burton) and grand set pieces (Scorsese) have become brands for hire, both men seem to have made almost identical Faustian pacts with the mainstream by submerging their talents in a string of adaptations and remakes at once overblown and oddly empty, packed with ho-hum spectacle but not much else," writes the Guardian's Danny Leigh.

But for the Telegraph's Mark Monahan, "Carroll's story is a lovely vehicle for Burton's creepy-crawly gothic style and penchant for exotic outsiders, and this film should make parents and children alike laugh, gape, cower and care."

"Adults and long time fans may be disappointed that this isn't a darker Burton movie, but by keeping things light this Alice effortlessly surpasses other fantasy films that fell so horribly short of their potential," finds Twitch's Todd Brown. "The weightless appearances (and disappearances) of Stephen Fry's Cheshire Cat alone have more charm than the recent Narnia movies and Golden Compass combined."

"The home video market is awash in versions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland this week," notes Dave Kehr. "For baby boomers who first encountered it on television in the 1950s, the Paramount Alice [Norman McLeod, 1933], with its ominous atmosphere, distorted sets and cast of contract players (including Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and WC Fields) hidden behind heavy, outlandish makeup based on the famous John Tenniel illustrations represented something closer to a horror movie than a benign children's fantasy. Seen today, it's still a profoundly creepy experience."

Also in the New York Times, Larry Rohter talks with Burton, Woolverton and others associated with the production, but also with a few academics who've written about Carroll: "'What is really interesting about the recent versions is that they are all a little violent,' said Jan Susina, author of The Place of Lewis Carroll in Children's Literature and a specialist in Victorian culture who teaches at Illinois State University, noting that the goth-and-gore singer Marilyn Manson also has a film project in the works in which he plans to play Carroll. 'Since each generation and culture puts its own gloss on the story, that suggests something about our culture.'"

Updates, 2/27: This new Alice "is wrong-headed in pretty much every way it can be, poorly designed, loud, and worst of all, boring," writes Drew McWeeney at Hitfix. "It is a catastrophe as a movie, and as a place marker in the career of Tim Burton, it is a big fat dead end."

AS Byatt in the Guardian on the books: "Even as a child I sensed that this was not surreal nonsense — it was some other kind of order, like the wonderful orders we now see in the fractal geometries of chaos. Another thing which is odd about reading Alice is that the reader — even a reader aged seven or eight — can never stop thinking about the language. The texture of reading Alice is a series of linguistic puzzles, contradictions and jokes, of which Humpty Dumpty's assertions of his own arbitrary power over words (a word 'means what I choose it to mean') are only the most striking. Alice is as much part of this linguistic tissue as the creatures she meets. As she falls through the earth she doesn't feel terror, she thinks, she talks to herself and analyses what is happening and may happen. She is prepared to give as good as she gets in arguments with pigeons, caterpillars, frog footmen, smiling cats and red and white queens. Her main emotion is trying to make sense against increasing odds."

"We've had the psychosexual fantasy explanation, the bourgeoisie-baiting preface to Marxism, the feminist parable, and the drug trip. But what the book has really been waiting for these 145 years was someone mad enough to spot its much-misused movie potential. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, released next Friday, may be a less than entirely faithful telling of the original, but it's hard not to sense that Carroll has, at last, found a kindred spirit." William Langley in the Telegraph, warming up for a talk with Helena Bonham Carter.

Update, 2/28: "Burton literalizes everything," writes Ramin Setoodeh in Newsweek. "Wonderland in Carroll's story is entirely imaginary, as Alice learns at the end when she wakes up from her dream. In Burton's world, Wonderland is a real place. When she returns home, Alice still has scratches on her arm from her fight with the Jabberwock. It's the director's way of saying, 'Look! She really was there.' This is especially disappointing when you consider how elastic Alice's imaginary Wonderland has been over the years."

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It makes me nervous to learn that notorious over-scorer Danny Elfman was on board. That leaves a 50-50 chance of being pounded into submission by an orchestra. But Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry for voice talent? Oh happy day. I could listen to either order meals at a drive-through. Any sterile, Shrek-like visual stage usually fails to convince, but I guess this story cries out for suspension of disbelief like no other. Still, it’s a drag that this kind of animation offers the cold glow of institutional fluorescent lighting.
What happened to Disney? Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland does not compare to the original animation. I remember when I was a child I would watch films like The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians and be amazed! Now, Disney has gone downhill and its films seem to be getting worse and worse as time goes by. If you ask me, many kids websites like Disney’s should not be listed on the top category of sites like Is it time for us to realize that Disney is not really what it used to be and in fact it now scraping the barrel of entertainment?

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