Alice in Wonderland (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, PG)

This notion is fairly idiotic to begin with, and is about as welcome as all of those abhorrent novels that keep coming out about the further adventures of Pride & Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy.

 

 

Why does Johnny Depp keep working with Tim Burton? I know they cut their teeth together, making the much-beloved Edward Scissorhands in 1990 and the much-lauded Ed Wood in 1994. Both films were good for both of their careers, first showing their marketability and then showing their awards-worthiness. But in the past fifteen years or so Burton has gone on to make shitty film after shitty film (the one exception being 2003’s Big Fish), and Depp has elevated himself to the position of one of the greatest actors of his generation—he’s fun to watch even if he finds himself trapped in a bad movie, as he often does. In this regard, I can see why Burton wants to keep working with Depp, but why doesn’t Depp cut ties with Burton?

What’s more, why don’t audiences cut ties with Burton? It’s not just that people still seem to like him after cinematic turds such as 2001’s Planet of the Apes or 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but pretty much everyone still seems stuck up his ass. Do people really like the films he makes these days? I don’t know of anyone who will admit to it.

Alice in Wonderland is no exception, and is sadly even worse than usual; as it stands it’s joyless, imaginationless, and a sub-Waking Life exploration of dreamscapes. As you know, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have been adapted into films a fairly ludicrous amount of times. What sets Burton’s take apart is that it positions itself as something like a sequel—usually our Alice is a little girl, but here she’s 19 (played by 20-year-old Mia Wasikowska, looking like a cross between a young Claire Danes and a young Gwyneth Paltrow), and the film works under the premise that Alice is returning to Wonderland. This notion is fairly idiotic to begin with, and is about as welcome as all of those abhorrent novels that keep coming out about the further adventures of Pride & Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy. It’s made even stupider by the fact that the beginning of the film plays more or less like the beginning of regular old Alice in Wonderland, in that Alice follows a white rabbit down a hole, drinks a liquid that makes her shrink and a cake that makes her grow, and generally doesn’t act as if she’s ever been there before. It’s only when Burton and his screenwriter Linda Woolverton (who’s been more reliable in the past—she was the screenwriter on Disney’s Beauty & the Beast and The Lion King) want to depart from the source material that Alice being 19 and returning to Wonderland makes anything resembling sense.

That’s not to say that everything else about the film isn’t also a problem. The 3-D could not be more gimmicky—it does not bring the world to life at all, it looks blurry, and it only really seems to serve the purpose of characters like the March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse) throwing stuff at the screen for no apparent reason. While the film has a good supporting cast, nearly all of it is wasted. Alan Rickman lends his incredible voice to the very unincredible Blue Caterpillar, Crispin Glover gets annoying fast as the Red Queen’s knave Stayne, the Red Queen herself (Helena Bonham Carter, antother Burton film fixture, but at least she is married to him) starts out kind of funny, but gets annoying fast. Only Anne Hathaway as the White Queen and the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry) keep from getting annoying. Wasikowska as Alice isn’t bad, but the character’s written poorly—her main function seems to be to keep getting bigger and smaller while her clothes do not, hinting at nudity or offering an excuse to model a new gothic dress.

Of course Depp’s fine, as always, though I can’t help but cringe at the fact that the media campaign is positioning him as if the Mad Hatter were the main character in the movie—he’s not really in it very much, yet in the end credits he gets top billing over Alice. What? It’s Alice’s movie, and called Alice in Wonderland, after all. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, though; they did the same damn thing with Charlie & the Chocolate Factory five years ago. | Pete Timmermann

 

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