This post is about the 2010 film Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton. (For my post on the book by Lewis Carroll, see Quotations from Alice in Wonderland.)
It is difficult to create a bad movie from Lewis Carroll’s ingenious vision of Wonderland, and likewise, it is exceedingly difficult to imitate or surpass it. I read both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass last month, which gave a clear sense of the intended nonsensicalness of the works, and I also saw somewhat recently Disney’s 1951 animation of Alice in Wonderland, which was superb.
Tim Burton’s version takes place in a different time, and is hence necessarily different, but loses much of the fine wit and ridiculousness of the original work.
For example, here is a passage from the mad tea party in Alice in Wonderland, the book (1865):
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter; “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”
“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.
Even without the context, this exchange of words is fascinating—and nonsensical—as Alice interprets the phrase “Take some more tea” differently than do the March Hare and the Hatter, leading to a pointless argument over semantics.
Here is the mad tea party, as rendered in the 1951 movie (you don’t have to watch all of it—you’ll quickly get the idea):
Most important is that it retains the vigor and pace of the book. Now, here is the beginning of the tea party scene in the 2010 movie:
Note that the events in this rendition happen at a much slower pace, and moreover, the scene contains only occasional wit.
The movie opens brilliantly, and up to the meeting of Alice and the Mad Hatter, it is excellent. There is then a noticeable drop in quality as the plot becomes a commonplace heroic story—though still funny through references to “The Jabberwocky” poem—it seems to lose its creativity. At the final battle, the movie gets good again. The references to lines in the books were all great, whether it was remembering “as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” or “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”, or the shrinking and enlarging after falling down the rabbit hole, or the flamingo crotchet game.
Lovers of the books should enjoy this movie. I would hold the 1951 film as more accurate to Carroll’s intentions than the 2010 film, but it is nonetheless a great movie.