DVD Tuesday: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘The Wolfman’

by W. Andrew Powell

Mia Wasilkowska wanders Underland in Alice In Wonderland

Mia Wasilkowska wanders Underland in Alice In Wonderland

New this week on DVD and Blu-ray: Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska star in Disney’s Alice In Wonderland; and Benicio Del Toro takes on a hairy role in The Wolfman.

Alice In Wonderland
Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover, Alan Rickman, Mia Wasilkowska, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall
Director: Tim Burton

Even all these years later, Walt Disney’s original 1951 animated classic, Alice In Wonderland, is a hard act to follow. Ask most people about their memory of this well-known story and they tend to think back to what they remember from the film, rather than Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That must have made director Tim Burton’s job just a little bit harder, although if anyone could reinvent Wonderland, there is no question in my mind that Burton was the right choice.

Set in the Victorian era, Burton’s Alice is a 19-year-old girl, played by Mia Wasikowska, who doesn’t want to be the average woman in a corset, waiting for others to tell her what her life should be like. This Alice wants to do things her way. So, when a wealthy Lord proposes marriage, in front of everyone she knows, Alice runs off to clear her head for a minute, and ends up on an adventure to a place that seems oddly familiar.

Following the White Rabbit, voiced by Michael Sheen, Alice finds herself among the talking plants and animals of Underland, a world where she is apparently very well known. For Alice though, it all feels like a dream, and even as she confronts the evil Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and her minions, Alice has a hard time believing that any of it is real.

As the world unfolds though, and we get to know a little bit more of the story, Alice starts to take Underland more seriously, and moves to help recrown the White Queen, played by Anne Hathaway.

Featuring a cast that could almost not be better suited to the story, the performances are very, very good. Depp once again steals another of Burton’s films as a decidedly Mad but tender-hearted Hatter, Crispin Glover plays the Knave of Hearts, and Stephen Fry voices the animated Cheshire Cat.

Carter is also the perfect Red Queen, even if her career is beginning to smudge together from a general lack of variety. Otherwise, Wasikowska is an intrepid Alice, all the way from playing the quiet, but resilient Alice, to the much more fiery Alice we meet in the end.

Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is flawed though, on a scale beyond the performances, which reflects badly on both Burton, and the script.

Not content to merely remake the cartoon or book, the filmmakers and screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who wrote The Lion King, have blended the first book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with a elements of the second book, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. The concept is sound but the plot makes the film feel like a mishmashed mess of themes that seems to borrow liberally from the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia films.

Alice In Wonderland is still a treat, it’s compelling, and Burton deserves credit for the style, but it’s far short of what many of us remember of Disney’s original Alice.

The Wolfman
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Director: Joe Johnston

Universal Pictures’ original 1941 film, The Wolf Man, is a classic piece of movie magic that earned itself a rightful spot on the list of influential and entertaining horror films for the ages. Between that film and the earlier Werewolf of London, Universal essentially created our modern image of the werewolf that has endured to this day.

For that reason, it was only a matter of time before someone realized a remake was long overdue, and apparently that someone was director Joe Johnston.

Benicio Del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, a man estranged from his family after the death of his mother when he was just a child. Now, many years later, Lawrence is drawn back home to help find his missing brother, where he once again connects with his father before an awful destiny takes hold of Lawrence’s life.

Set in the 1880s, the film follows much of the original plot from the 1941 film, but with a much more modern and visceral approach.

The visceral side comes not only in the way the film looks, and in the storytelling, but also in the liberal splashes of blood and gore that spatter across the film from beginning to end.

Heads are severed, necks are sliced, and organs are ripped from unsuspecting chests, all with that modern style that I associate more with cheap horror films, rather than the classics that frankly were always more suspenseful.

The blood and guts don’t really hurt the film, but they are a symptom of the types of changes that director Joe Johnston and his creative team inflicted on a story that could have been much more intense, rather than simply cheaply showy. That symptom also contributes to what I can only call a ridiculous final sequence that I could have happily lived without.

Overall, The Wolfman was far better than I expected, thanks to the cast and the mood Johnston created, but the film is flawed because it just can’t sustain the chilling side of the story, and the mood that makes the concept so creepy in the first place.

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