In case you hadn’t already heard, regardless of what many Carrollians may have thought of Disney’s Tim Burton/Linda Woolverton Alice in Wonderland 3D flick, the film has grossed over $1 billion worldwide, so of course a sequel is in the works–penned yet again by Ms. Woolverton. Apparently the sequel will be “inspired” by Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Given that Ms. Woolverton has already shown her version of Alice “empowering” herself by slaughtering the Jabberwock (and drinking its purple blood, in true warrior style) in the first movie, one wonders what acts of violence Alice will be called upon to perform in the sequel to prove that she’s an “empowered” woman, with that pesky Jabberwock already out of the way. Perhaps she’ll actually carve the mutton? Perhaps she’ll carve up everyone in the banquet hall while she’s at it, for good measure. Or maybe the Jabberwock’s female partner will make an enraged appearance for the finale? One wonders whether Helena Bonham Carter will be asked back to fulfill the obligatory “evil Red Queen” role; she certainly was a highlight of the first film. And given that the second book includes the character of “Hatta” we can almost certainly count on seeing the wacky countenance of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter again. It would certainly be nice to have Mia Wasikowska back in the lead role; she lent considerable grace to the first effort. Let’s hope that this time around, Ms. Woolverton will at least entertain the possibility that Alice can take charge of things without drawing blood. You know, the way Lewis Carroll’s original Alice did. We can dream, can’t we?
Some light entertainment for your Sunday morning: Where would you put a life-size cut-out of Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen (yours for only $34.95 from AG)? I would like to think of her used to direct attention to a particularly important agenda item, or perhaps to direct traffic (to the left).
I have to admit I am featuring this item mainly because the idea of the company made me giggle: AG, “Home of Cardboard People” is “the world’s largest manufacturer of cardboard standups.” Where “our kind of people are cardboard people.”
But fans of Disney’s 1951 Alice in Wonderland may like to ask why it is possible to purchase a three-foot-tall cut out of Dumbo, but no Alice and no Cheshire Cat? Who exactly is the target audience? Does the Dumbo fan club really wield more eccentric purchasing power than the fans of Alice? Say it isn’t so!
When Lewis Carroll published a few thousand copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, with no hype or buzz, it received some mixed reviews. That’s one of the few things Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has in common with Carroll’s original stories. The critics were out this week, and occasionally perceptive. As of this morning, the “top critics” that Rotten Tomatoes tracks average at about 59% (between rotten tomato and ripe tomato), with the general masses giving it about 53%. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, one of my favorite critics to disagree with, had some interesting insight into the Alice Paradox in movies:
Dark and sometimes grim, this isn’t your great-grandmother’s Alice or that of Uncle Walt, who was disappointed with the 1951 Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland.” “Alice has no character,” said a writer who worked on that project. “She merely plays straight man to a cast of screwball comics.” Of course the character of Carroll’s original Alice is evident in each outrageous creation she dreams up in “Wonderland” and in the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass,” which means that she’s a straight man to her own imagination. (She is Wonderland.) Here she mostly serves as a foil for the top biller Johnny Depp, who (yes, yes) plays the Mad Hatter, and Mr. Burton’s bright and leaden whimsies.
Her conclusion, however, is vague and baffling:
This isn’t an impossible story to translate to the screen, as the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer showed with “Alice” (1988), where the divide between reality and fantasy blurs as it does in dreams. It’s just hard to know why Mr. Burton, who doesn’t seem much interested in Alice, bothered.
The great Roger Ebert, at the Chicago Sun-Times, admits he didn’t care for the books growing up, which possibly explains some of his strange tangents:
This has never been a children’s story. There’s even a little sadism embedded in Carroll’s fantasy. It reminds me of uncles who tickle their nieces until they scream. “Alice” plays better as an adult hallucination, which is how Burton rather brilliantly interprets it until a pointless third act flies off the rails. It was a wise idea by Burton and his screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, to devise a reason that Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a grown girl in her late teens, revisiting a Wonderland that remains much the same, as fantasy worlds must always do.
Burton shows us Wonderland as a perturbing place where the inhabitants exist for little apparent reason other than to be peculiar and obnoxious. Do they reproduce? Most species seem to have only one member, as if nature quit while she was ahead.
How could he not develop that shocking exposée? Who was the Duchess’s baby daddy? Is there a Mrs. Mock Turtle!? I wish Carroll was around to explain the laws of dream procreation.
One more quote, I’ll give Elizabeth Weizman of New York Daily News my highly coveted Saying Nothing Award:
“Frabjous” may be a word Carroll invented, but Burton knows just what it means, at least in his own mind. He’s clearly excited to invite us inside, and as long as you’re open to so much muchness, you’ll be very glad he did.
This parsing of critics possibly to be continued… In the meantime, I have several questions:
-How come no one has discussed the influence of Miranda Richardson’s Queen Elizabeth I from BBC’s “Blackadder II” (1986) on Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen?
-Why was the Dodgson-esque figure named Charles at the beginning Alice’s dead father? What?
-Did the bizarre Chinese trade-route plot-line at the finale, which was guided on by the blue butterfly (née Caterpillar), have anything to do with opium (i.e., the possible contents of the Caterpillar’s pipe)? I know it was 2am and I had a headache from two hours of drinking wine in an IMAX with 3D glasses, but I think I may be onto a possible explanation for the otherwise unexplainable China thing.
It’s now only two weeks from opening night of the Tim Burton Disney 3D Spectacular. There’s posters all over bus stops in the East Bay Area, California. The LCSNA is preparing for the plunge (in lieu of the macropsiacal interest in Carroll) by revamping its website, which will integrate this blog (that’s right, we’re moving! so watch for a White Rabbit), all of this pretty soon.
The Winter 2009 edition of the Knight Letter (no. 83) featured an article by Daniel Singer called “Off With Their Heads! Those Awful Alice Movies.” (The Knight Letter is the LCSNA‘s magazine, sent to subscribers for the membership fee of $35.) Of course, this theme is being taken up now all over, retrospectives of the century-plus of mediocre Alice in Wonderland movies. Susan King at the Los Angeles Times blog Hero Complex took a stab at the topic, beginning her article: “The first known ‘Alice in Wonderland’ film … was made in 1903, just 68 years after Lewis Carroll first published his fantasy ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’” Perhaps she’s onto advanced rabbithole mathematics, and that works in base 17 or something. We recommend the Daniel Singer article if you can dig up a Knight Letter.
Elsewhere at Hero Complex, they quote Tim Burton discussing his Red Queen (played by his partner Helena Bonham Carter):
“In lots of illustrations and incarnations of Carroll’s work through the years, it always seems like she had a big head. It was an interesting challenge for us to find the right size and weight and proportions. One of the things we wanted to do was to use the actors and their performances — to use the real them — and then make them different. It’s still their performance but it’s just made weird. We wanted to achieve this blend. That was an important dynamic.”
“In a lot of children’s literature and other literature it’s kind of the same thing over and over — there’s good queens and bad queens, and here you have that but the elements are a bit blurred,” Burton said. “Everybody’s weird and has weird qualities to them. She’s kind of a mixture. When I look at her now, she reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Leona Helmsley. There’s a tiny bit of elements of my mother in there too, for some strange reason. And Helena brings her own things to it too.”
A handful of new Alice books, in particular, and the revival of Alice in general, was written about by Craig Wilson in today’s USA Today. They even made an online quiz (pop-culture heavy), How well do you know ‘Alice in Wonderland’? – although I disagreed with a couple of the answers. Here’s the books they plug, ending with a quote by Mark Richards:
•Alice I Have Been: A Novelby Melanie Benjamin (Delacorte, $25), out today. “I saw a photo of Alice Liddell (the model for the Alice character) taken by Charles Dodgson, and it made me realize that this was a lot more than just a children’s story,” says Benjamin, who built her novel around Alice’s life after her childhood fame. “She was unflappable, not a typical Victorian. And she survived it all, just like Alice survived it all in the books. She was never beaten down.”
•The Mystery of Lewis Carroll by Jenny Woolf (St. Martin’s Press, $27.99), out Feb. 2. Woolf sheds more light on the mysterious Dodgson in this new biography, examining everything from his relationship with Alice and her older sister to his controversial photographing of nude young girls. “The more closely Lewis Carroll is studied, the more he seems to slide quietly away,” Woolf writes.
•A new single-volume paperback edition of Carroll’s two classic Alice stories ($8.95). Oxford World’s Classics has reissued Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872) with a new introduction by Peter Hunt, an expert in children’s literature. Oxford Children’s Classics released a new hardcover of Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland in April ($9.95).
•The Disney movie Alice in Wonderland, combining live action and animation. Alice is now 19, fleeing a proposed marriage and, yes, she follows a white rabbit into a hole, entering Wonderland once again. Depp is the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter plays the Queen of Hearts, and Mia Wasikowska is Alice. Release date: March 5.
Why is it Alice’s time again?
“The timeless appeal of the Alice books lies not only in their wonderfully imaginative qualities but, perhaps more important, in the way they touch our emotions,” says Mark Richards, chairman of the Lewis Carroll Society in London.
That answer seemed to be to a slightly different question. Thank you, Jenny Woolf, for sending us this article.
Blogger Elizabeth Snead reports at The Dishrag that “Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ press kit is a trip in itself.”
The lucky recipients got “a very large box” containing “a large faux antiquarian book of Alice in Wonderland.”
Inside the first book with drawings/photos of Tim Burton and the Lewis Carroll is another a delightfully smaller book with illustrations of locations and sets.
Inside that book is another smaller book with illustrations of the characters, Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), etc.
Inside that book is another smaller book containing a heavy metal key. And there’s a note that needed a magnifying glass to read it that says: The USB key will take you beyond the gates of Wonderland and unveil the many secrets that await you.”
We were kinda hoping for one pill that would make us larger, but whatever.
Anyway, breathlessly, we stuck the key in my computer and….
On the USB key is a cool new trailer and three photos from the film.
Leave it to Disney to make their “Alice in Wonderland” press kit as exciting an adventure as Burton’s adaptation of the classic tale promises to be.
The rabbit hole has never been like this.
Thank you Ms. Snead for the images and description. Now, how do we get one!?