Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Special: White Rabbits and March Hares

Rabbits have proved to be a popular theme for this blog, so in lieu of better ideas, why not return to the well this easter? A White Rabbit is a driving force throughout Lewis Carroll's classic satirist fairy tale Alice In Wonderland. Carroll's story has prevailed so long since it offers something in equal measures to children and adults. In addition to rabbits there are bounds of other memorable characters and contents from nonsensical wordplay to studies of varying states of madness throughout the story (as well as it's sequel Alice's Adventures Through The Looking Glass). With such a bountiful subject matter, filmmakers through decades have been able to pick 'n mix contents for adaptations as they have chosen.

With Alice, colorful surprises are plenty, not unlike with what you get from easter eggs. But like easter eggs and their toys, the qualities vary from delicious treats and delightful wonders to saccharine yucks and grade-C toy-making. I'll take a look at three live action adaptations of Carroll's story, varying in quality. Happy Easter!

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (UK, 1972)
Director: William Sterling

This British adaptation seems to be a work against the Americanization of Carroll's story. It emphasizes the language, puns and jokes in a very British manner. The movie rolls out famous comedians in minor cameos, and does songs a plenty. Yet, it doesn't offer much more of anything than its American counter parts, say Disney's animated adaptation, already have.

Besides a few chills down your spine, at least.
Alice (Fiona Futterton) is played by a full-grown woman here, trying to pass off as a young child. The girl falls asleep on a picnic (with Lewis Carroll himself, played by Michael Jayston) and she dreams of chasing the white rabbit down its hole to a magical land of talking animals and living playing cards and such. Meeting various occupants of Wonderland, she eventually finds herself in the court of the King and Queen of Hearts (Dennis Price and Flora Robson).

The animals are presented here with actors in (quite creepy) fur suits and make up. The film plays up the whimsy and glorifies the oddness, yet comes off as boring. The songs are dull, the staging bad, the acting, particularly by Futterton atrocious. Spike Milligan and Michael Hordern make the biggest fools of themselves, running around in stupid griffin and turtle suits, goofing around just because. The joyless film comes off as a heartless and disposable adaptation. Off with its head!

Alice (a.k.a. Něco z Alenky), (Czechoslovakia/Switzerland/UK/BRD, 1988)
Director: Jan Švankmajer

"This is a story for children - perhaps", exclaims the narration at the beginning of this half-animated classic. Indeed, while kids can enjoy is, they have little need for a film such as this, since most of their daily entertainment is filled with unnatural wonders anyway. This is more pointed at adults who have lost their imagination and a sense of wonder with their mundane lives.

The first feature film by the legendary Czech stop motion animator Jan Švankmajer dismisses the set-up of treating Lewis Carroll's story like a fairy tale. His animation re-imagines the story to take place in a mundane environment. Characters and situations are ordinary household objects or toys, brought to life by a child's imagination. It has a dreamy logic to it, wherein anything can happen.

Alice (Kristýna Kohoutová) sees a stuffed white rabbit rise up from its display case and run away. She follows the critter to a writing desk drawer. She consumes cookies she finds that make her grow, as well as drinking ink makes her shrink. Soon, she will have to defend her actions against enraged animals. Stuffed socks and stockings make for caterpillars, cardboard cut-outs for playing card soldiers and royalty. Many animals presented are a blend of taxidermy subjects, bones and toys.

While the young Kohoutová is quite sweet in her role, Švankmajer isn't one to play up too much of cuteness. His characters can pull ugly faces, act intimidatingly or petty and are generally more of a menace, yet not in a scary way. Their carefully done movements are different for every character, and the animation is incomplete enough to give an otherworldly impression. Therein lies the director's biggest charm. The film is edgy enough to be exciting without flashy colors or changing scenery. The movie doesn't show too much, and lets the viewer fill out the blanks with his or her own imagination.

Strange, charming, endlessly surprising and joyful, this is the best Alice In Wonderland adaptation by quite a wide margin.


Alice in Wonderland (USA, 2010)
Director: Tim Burton

Burton's blockbusting belly-landing is a Socratic ideal of everything that is wrong with Hollywood today. It's a flashy re-imagining of a popular story, with more emphasis done on appearances than on story, character development or any contents. Colorful, CGI work (also in 3D) hides the hollowness of it all, and the story is so hallow, it brutalizes Carroll's ideas to a cheap Lord of the Rings knock-off. Marketability is the king here, off with their heads to any artistic endeavors.

The film passes itself as a sort-of sequel to Carroll's events. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has grown to be 19, and is to be married. Yet she has other ideas and runs off. Encountering the White Rabbit, she follows it down the rabbit hole again, down to Underland (which is what Wonderland is called in this piece of shit).

Meeting her old acquaintances, Alice learns that she is a Chosen One, a legendary hero that will defeat the reign of the tyrant Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and her man-eating Jabberwocky. Writing this synopsis down, I still can't believe how much this sounds like a committee had written this in order to cash in on the most profitable trends going on at Hollywood.

Burton, always one for more visual approach than a coherent storyteller, of course revels in this. The re-imaginings of famous characters from the story have jumped straight out of his drawings. And they do resemble a junior high school student's margin drawings. But they are marketable, so whatever.

The film does have a good cast, even if Burton doesn't bother directing them that much. Alan Rickman as The Caterpillar and Stephen Fry as Chesire Cat in particular are so great choices for their roles, one has to wonder why anyone else didn't get the idea before. Michael Gough has his final film role as the voice of the Dodo. Crispin Glover in all his craziness is a perfect fit for the Knave of Hearts. Pity all these character actors are interchangeable within the story. The only minor character whose role is emphasized within the story (for better or for worse) is of course Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter. Who, in the name of shallow quirkiness is named, obnoxiously and pointlessly, Tarrant Hightopp.

Depp has grown to be such a major star, he gets to do pretty much whatever he wants on the set. So, here he goofs around as if there was no one directing him at all. His horrible Scottish accent comes on and off at points. Much of made of him having to become a warrior in the dire times, since Undeland needs it. Depp's final dance sequence is so dreadful, I'd like to wipe that memory out of my mind entirely.

There are a few amusing enough jokes within all of this. But as a whole it's loud, obnoxious and altogether indifferent. And inexplicably, this marketing ploy worked like a charm. The movie made over a billion dollars profit for its parent company Disney. O tempora, O mores.

★ 1/2

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...