Synopsis: Tumble down the rabbit hole with Alice for a fantastical new adventure from Walt Disney Pictures and Tim Burton. Inviting and magical, Alice In Wonderland is an imaginative new twist on one of the most beloved stories of all time. Alice (Mia Wasikowska), now 19 years old, returns to the whimsical world she first entered as a child and embarks on a journey to discover her true destiny. This Wonderland is a world beyond your imagination and unlike anything you’ve seen before. The extraordinary characters you’ve loved come to life richer and more colorful than ever. There’s the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) and more. A triumphant cinematic experience – Alice In Wonderland is an incredible feast for your eyes, ears and heart that will captivate audiences of all sizes.
When Tim Burton first broke onto the scene, to me he was a like breath of fresh air (well, more like a breeze gently stirring elegant cobwebs in a dusty old mansion, but you know what I mean ). I loved that he had a quirky, playful nature and that he wasn’t afraid to tiptoe on the dark side of life for amusement. He had a style all of his own – an inimitable one that remains a distinctive presence in Hollywood.
The problem is that Burton has ended up being reeled into projects that lacked true vision, such as ‘Sleepy Hollow’, or remakes such as ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ (yes, yes… I’m aware that his version has a different title!). I don’t know if it’s due to a lack of inspiration from the creative genius who gave us ‘Edward Scissorhands’, but he’s even retreading his material now – going so far as to redoing his short film ‘Frankenweenie’ into a feature-length piece.
It seems as though he is content to be hired to give his own personal spin on reheated up material, as opposed to actually creating new works altogether. I suppose that’s fine: not everyone is a visionary, and he has nonetheless brought ‘Big Fish’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’ to life (haha!). But those of us who adore looking at the world’s shadows through Burton’s rose-tinted glasses, probably wish he had higher aims – that he offered up fresh creations and invented new worlds for us to frolic in.
Alas… it seems not to be. Instead, we have been tossed yet another cold cut: a murky live-action rendition of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ meant to follow-up Alice’s adventures from the 1951 Disney animated film.
At first glance, it’s an exciting proposition: matching up an extremely visually-minded director who has a kooky bend with a tale that is as nutty as its Mad Hatter should be effortless and easily pay off on so many levels. But one should never forget that Burton rarely ever leaves the confines of his gothic bubble, whereas the Disney version of ‘Wonderland’ is anything but – it’s a place that’s rich in colour, that is vibrant with lunacy and playfulness. Without these elements, it’s no longer Wonderland as we know and cherish it.
So I was hardly surprised, but was nonetheless chagrined, to discover that Burton was up to his old tricks again – that he didn’t even try to stretch beyond his comfort zone. His version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is far too dark and grim-looking; it IS a Burton film, obviously, but it would have been nice to see him do something magical again (‘Big Fish’ certainly had that quality to it).
Basically, this is Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s nutty version of Lord of the Rings, filled with evil characters and oppression of all kinds. It even boasts a White Queen who looks like Arwen – however, bereft in deadly bloom. There’s even a gathering of White Queen and Red Queen’s armies at the end, for a battle to decide the fate of Wonderland. It’s obviously not quite like LotR (or at all, one might say ), but one can see that its epic scale and look was incorporated with Burton’s style and Wonderland’s quirks – likely for commercial appeal.
And it worked, dammit. I can’t really fathom it, but Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is one of the highest-grossing films of all time. All time. Not just of 2010. Don’t get me wrong: it’s an entertaining film. But it mostly scores points for its look – not for anything of any real substance (in the sense that a great script and fabulous performances can offset almost any production weakness, but the reverse isn’t quite true).
I mean, the story is alright… but it’s littered with déjà vu (through the looking glass); pretty much every plot point has been worn down from overuse. At no moment do we get the impression that we’re seeing something new – and that’s a real shame in a world where anything can happen. But doesn’t. I think that what’s missing the most is the fun. Granted, there’s more of an understandable plot than in the animated ‘Alice’ from 1951, but it’s a completely pointless affair when you don’t care, when your heart’s not into it.
The visual effects and the score were extremely conventional, uninteresting, somewhat insubstantial:
-the CGI made all motion (human or animal) look wholly unrealistic. It’s as though we had taken a trip through time, back to 1999 or so. I don’t know who took care of the computer graphics, but the fully CGI characters didn’t even look real. And Crispin Glover’s character, which was altered with CGI, moved like the droids in ‘The Phantom Menace’: clunky, inhuman. It’s so very weird… you’d think that they’d have that fixed by now. Maybe Disney hired the bargain basement CGI team.
-in lieu of something original (à la ‘Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’ or ‘Edward Scissorhands’), Danny Elfman fed the audience scraps from his lobotomized doppelganger. It was nice, magical, but it has all been heard before. And done better – by a younger Elfman, no less.
Thankfully, we got a few decent performances out of this one:
-Helena Bonham Carter keeps impressing me in recent years. Although she used to annoy me slightly, especially in films like ‘Fight Club’, her roles in Burton’s films have really brought out the best in her. Not to say that she hasn’t done better before, but rather that she has not failed once in Burton’s films (although her make-up in ‘Planet of the Apes’ failed her).
-Mia Wasikowska and Crispin Glover were pretty good, even though they weren’t exceptional. They both played it straight and carried their respective characters through the picture unblemished. As some of the few live actors in the piece, this was a big plus.
And then there are the disappointments:
-Johnny Depp, whom, until recently (i.e. prior to ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’) was one of my all-time favourites, was alright in this but his character was too far removed from the nutty but endearing Mad Hatter I would have liked to see. Depp’s version was strange, sullen. Almost alien, even. He was hardly the deliriously exuberant loon that would have given this film a much-needed pie in the face. Nope… he just worries and blathers on incomprehensibly.
-Anne Hathaway just didn’t do anything for me (she never does, and I don’t understand her appeal – on ANY level). Her White Queen walked around with her wrists floating in the air, like a broken porcelain ballet dancer. It was really bizarre, as though she had been directed to never let her hands go below shoulder level. As for her look, given that I’d half expect the White Queen to be purity itself, I was dismayed to find that she was the opposite of lively – she was actually creepy-looking.
But, to be perfectly honest, these last two may be casualties of Burton’s skew. Lord knows he doesn’t exactly have a terrible grip on reality, given that many of his films are mostly style over logic. Case-in-point:
-when Alice falls into the rabbit hole and plummets down at mad speeds, she somehow doesn’t hit or bounce off of anything along the way and, when she finally crashes to the ground, she doesn’t hurt herself at all.
-when Alice is thrown across a stream, hidden on the hat, a crash as violent as this one would normally fracture -if not kill- a human being. Heck, she doesn’t even gets scratched. It’s basically: dust yourself off, keep on running. Suuuuuure.
I don’t know… maybe it’s just me, but this kind of nonsense (as opposed to the amusing kind of nonsense ) detaches me from a film. When it’s clear that I’m being BS-ed I take slight offence, wondering what kind of fool the filmmakers take me for. Either that, or I immediately judge them and conclude that they’re frickin’ idiots. I mean, at the very least I would like the basic laws of physics to be followed. Is that too much to ask for?
But I guess Burton and company were so busy trying to churn out a product that its quality wasn’t exactly high on the agenda. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is more akin to a McDonald’s burger than to a home-made, bbq-ed burger: made with precision, according to a very clear recipe, but lacking true flavour. It had very little soul and, consequently, it wasn’t as fun as it should have been.
The filmmakers recognized this, of course, and threw all of us a bone by grafting an artificially jubilant Mad Hatter’s dance at the end as a parting shot. This was meant to inject life and purported hilarity to the proceedings, but it seemed so out of place, what with its high energy canned music more suited to a dance floor than to a fantasy world, that I was terribly annoyed by it; by then, my patience was truly tested.
‘Alice in Wonderland (2010)’ is hardly a terrible film. By Hollywood standards, it’s very much middle of the road entertainment for the masses. However, it could have been much much better, given the material it is based upon. Instead, this version of the tale is only one of the tediously average Tim Burton films. When he’s good, he’s fantastic. But he often gets into generic Burton mode, and then it’s all style, no substance. Or fun.