DVD Review: Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton has officially become a hack. He’s certainly one of the best directors of the late 1980s and 1990s, but in the past ten years he’s only directed one good film (“Corpse Bride”). His latest venture, “Alice in Wonderland” is yet another iteration of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Burton should have made this years ago, at least then it would have felt somewhat intriguing. Instead, it’s just stale and ordinary like what his career has become. Can’t imagine this would have been any more compelling in 3D (when will this fad end?) – just totally over-bloated with the stench of Hollywood involvement.

The story is of a 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) who, afraid of being forced into a marriage of which she has no interest, runs off and falls into the rabbit hole into the world of Wonderland. She has a recollection through what she believes to be dreams, but soon finds out that her dreams are more than what they’ve seemed. Her dreams sort of come alive on her.

“Alice in Wonderland” feels like Burton is still stuck trying to appease the suits, making the Burton film that Hollywood expects from him – not the Burton film that one hopes he’s still capable of making. Also, it’s too obvious that Tim Burton should make the “Alice in Wonderland” film. Burton needs to surprise us again. It’s evident he doesn’t really have any more original ideas. He needs another “Ed Wood.”

The film is badly scripted with muddled and silly dialogue that never even bothers to intrigue or excite. It begins with a cliched frame story of a girl who is expected to marry against her will to achieve status and uphold the class structure. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s story frame attempts to mirror parts of the famous Alice storyline. It’s mildly interesting but further proves how upsetting and unnecessary this movie is. Danny Elfman’s score doesn’t sound like his usual sort, but it’s so conventionally boring that one almost misses his regular Burton-style sound.

Wasikowska has a wonderful look for the film, but she almost seems to be phoning it in. For an actress who should be one of those “it girls,” she certainly should have knocked it out of the park whereas her major debut is merely a bunt. There’s a difference between looking the role and playing the role. She has a certain appeal, but she almost appears to feel out of place in the part.

At least Helena Bonham-Carter isn’t playing the stock character (for the most part). She seems to at least be having fun as the Red Queen – and with her role in the “Harry Potter” films it appears as though her foray into villainous characters is something of a true calling.

Stephen Fry voices the Cheshire Cat, but lacks presence and is forgettable. Also, why is Crispin Glover in this? Paycheck. Anne Hathaway could have been a breath of fresh air, but her appearance is laughable.

Johnny Depp is pointlessly cast as the Mad Hatter, and after his first major scenes it becomes apparent that he’s only here because he’s Johnny Depp. Depp’s falling into a horrible pattern of playing these “goofy” characters that always feel like a watered down Jack Sparrow. He’s become the king of phoning it in. He seems to be enjoying the role, but really only to a point. Depp can be absolutely brilliant when he keeps the performance subtle (“Finding Neverland”) but when one can tell how uninterested he is in the part, it really shows. Depp knows character, however this one just sort of fell flat.

This “Alice” is not entirely unwatchable, but still sadly antiquated in terms of its superior source material and former adaptations. Some of the imagery and make-up work is actually quite impressive but too few and far between to make a difference. It’s clear that a lot of hard work went into the film, and there’s possibly a good film underneath this mess – but the pieces just didn’t fall into the right places.

This is a thinly veiled story of the search for identity through lost childhood that never reaches fulfillment. At one point, the Mad Hatter tells Alice that she’s lost her “muchness” – her ability to find the wonder in Wonderland. Burton, too, has lost his “muchness.” He could have actually made a great Alice film had he not been held back by an unabashedly boring script and sleepy performances. My second grade production of this story was more interesting and watchable than this lackadaisical hogwash. Dear suits, please give Tim Burton his creative control back.

Grade: C-

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1 Comment

Filed under Johnny Depp

One response to “DVD Review: Alice in Wonderland

  1. Kate

    I thought I was the only one who (a) couldn’t find the excitement in this movie and (b) felt like it was Jack Sparrow with makeup. Burton needs to shake it up.

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