Saturday, April 10, 2010


"But I wrote this just for you!"

While Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is plenty of fun, but The Wonderland it portrays is relatively safe. While much of it is weird, in that trademark whimsical Burtony way, very little of it actually disturbs (In all fairness it’s a family movie and disturbing probably wasn’t what they where going for). If Carroll and Carroll’s book are anything though, they’re unsafe. That’s what gives Alice In Wonderland its potency, allowed it roll around popular culture for the last hundred years or so, popping up where it is least suspected. Dreamchild is a hard movie to find, but its well worth it, for anyone intrigued enough by Carrol’s work to want to know more about the man, not all of it pretty.

Dreamchild isn’t adapted from one of Carroll’s books per se. Instead it’s a fictionalized account of the “real” Alice’s trip to America in the nineteen thirties. Forced to recollect the books for the first time in years, and in failing mental and physical health, she finally realizes that Carroll was in love with her. That’s all good and icky, but things get worse when Alice’s remembrance of both her childhood and Wonderland start to bleed into the present day leaving the poor old lady in a warped fever dream version of reality.

These visualizations of Wonderland come courtesy of The Jim Henson company who do dark detailed work that would make Burton runaway screaming. The design and performance work cut directly to the character’s essence. There has always been something sinister about Wonderland. It’s as though it was created in equal parts by the unconscious and the intellect, taking the worst aspects of each. That’s part of the attraction. The puppet work brings it out clearly. Remember this is Henson in The Dark Crystal, Labryinth phase, he’s not afraid to go dark with his designs. Henson and his team embrace this intricate view of Carrol’s work fully, expressing his creations in all their id fueled glory.

(Oh Shit)

Indeed if the film has a problem its that it doesn’t go far enough. When the film focuses on Alice and the distorted wonderland, its darkly fascinating, but it focuses far too much of its time on the light romantic comedy subplot involving Alice’s ward and none other then the OC’s Peter Gallagher, who woos her with her eyebrows. Its not that these scenes are bad per se, its just that they seem so bizarrely out of place. They reflect on Alice, and her prudish repressed sexuality, partially courtesy of Carrol’s affections, but if that’s all they’re supposed to do they attract far too much attention on themselves. The mawkish thirties style romantic comedy constantly intruding on the darkness of the inner journey Alice goes through.

But its not a simple hatchet job, Dreamchild offers an honest but complex and ultimately sympathetic portrait of Carroll, aided by Ian Holm’s empathetic performance. Which pays full tribute to the man’s creative genius and imagination, not just his flaws. As both a study of Carroll’s life and work Dreamchild is unparalleled.

No comments: