Alice in Wonderland
By Steve Dobritch
March 5, 2010
In many ways a Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland felt inevitable [check out our interview with Burton and star Johnny Depp]. From early on almost every film Burton has done takes place in its own wonderland. Whether it’s Jack Skellington leading the residents of Halloween town, Edward Scissorhands surviving the suburban jungle or Beetlejuice parading around the sand dunes of the afterlife, each is a journey of curiosity and discovery of the wonderful land around them. With Burton’s long resume of tragic and twisted fairytales, he finally takes that trip down the rabbit hole and gives us exactly what we were expecting.
Unfortunately that is what Wonderland is: exactly what we were expecting. Now I’m not going to say I didn’t like the film; it just suffers from what I like to call the Lady in the Water effect. Within the first twenty minutes of the film the entire journey and climax are revealed and literally mapped out for the audience. Instead of feeling adventure and excitement I found myself waiting for the next thing to happen exactly how it was presented in the beginning of the story. Character A travels to point B so he/she can accomplish action C, repeat. And in that way it was a pretty boring film.
Tim Burton’s films have gotten the reputation of feeling like an emo kid’s sad, sad song, and I had every intention of sitting through a 2 hour 3D extravaganza of nothing more than Johnny Depp taking a nose dive into the clearance rack of a Hot Topic, but once the wonderland and its inhabitants were revealed it felt a lot less Tim “Burtonesque” than I feared it would. Taking himself out of the movie and letting the material speak for itself is not something he does—ever. One thing you can always count on with Burton at the helm is the creepy yet whimsical tone and atmosphere he delivers film after film. While not relying on his heavy stylization and letting Lewis Carroll’s universe and characters do most of the work, Burton finds a nice balance in his kingdom.
As the title character, Mia Wasikowska holds her own against the acting juggernauts of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter but does little else. With the script (Linda Woolverton) focusing more on the Hatter and Carter’s Red Queen, Wasikowska is given nothing more than watching the story unfold until the last, very rushed, act of the film. After finally serving her purpose she is placed back into the back seat of Depp’s wild ride.
Depp himself gives a fine performance as Wonderlands Mad Hatter. Much like his last few Disney roles, Depp waltzes through the comic relief as he pauses for solemn moments of self discovery only to stumble back into his quirky antics and brief one-liners. The only difference in this film is a fluctuating Scottish accent and a “Pop and Lock” routine reminiscent of the trilogy killer that was Peter Parker’s emo jazz dance in Spider-Man 3.
The studio is marketing this film as a 3D experience but after seeing a dozen or so 3D films over the past year the effect felt pretty lost on me. There are a couple of gimmicky in your face shots while the rest don’t really use the immersion factor the way it should. The effect gets the job done but doesn’t add much to the film. Unless you are going into this film without seeing 3D before, I’d say save a couple of bucks and lose the glasses.
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland basically boils down to fantastical imagery and not much else. The film’s saving grace is its amazing visuals and interesting supporting characters, (voiced by Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, and Alan Rickman) but with a lazy storyline, a mish-mash of telegraphed character arcs and average performances. Unfortunately, there was really no good reason to return to wonderland.