Loosely based on Lewis Caroll’s novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland re-imagines Alice’s adventure and gives the classic tale the Tim Burton treatment: landscapes are stamped with Burton’s trademark Gothicism, the characters are quirky and often grotesquely exaggerated, and the story focuses on misunderstood outcasts and split worlds. Coupled with Danny Elfman’s sweeping, magical score, the film has both the visual and musical elements in place for an amusing and absurd dream-like adventure.
“But it’s spectacle over substance!” some have announced. And they are partly right. If you go into the film expecting some sort of nuanced human drama, you will be deeply disappointed. Alice in Wonderland is a children’s story in spite of expectations to the contrary.
Carroll’s novels about Alice are in the “literary nonsense” genre, consisting of peculiar characters and muddled storylines that construct a type of dream-logic experience for the reader. Puzzlement and absurdity practically seep through the pages, leaving so much open to interpretation.
Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton interpret Alice in Wonderland as an empowerment tale about a girl who falls down a rabbit hole and into a fantasy world where she must learn to be her own champion. It explores themes of identity, autonomy, and “muchness.” That is about as deep as the movie ever gets and, perhaps, that is as deep as it needs to get.
Alice in Wonderland is not a perfect film -the story is a little weak and the ending may have some people rolling their eyes (especially during the song played during the credits) – but the talented cast playing misfit characters create an amusing sense of nostalgia. You recognize these Wonderland characters as if they are old friends, even with their new Burtonesque appearances and enhanced eccentricities. Seeing them re-imagined on the screen reminds you why you liked the story in the first place.
Like any classic story re-imagined on screen, there will be those who are disappointed with the outcome. The hype may overshadow the experience. Expectations may interfere with fully slipping into the cinematic journey. But for those who still believe in the magic of fairytales, still enjoy flamboyant silliness for the sake of silliness, and go into the movie with an open mind, they will find it enormously entertaining. For Alice in Wonderland is, and always will be, for the dreamers.