I had a good chuckle a few weeks ago when comedian Rob Delaney wrote on his Twitter page, “What classic tale will Tim Burton lazily reheat next?” It wasn’t until I was sitting in the movie when I thought to myself, “It’s true!” I understand what it’s like to have an idea that’s so big and has so many different pieces that, once it’s finished, you stand back and realize that what you’ve put together is a big, hot, tranny mess. And when the credits began rolling after Alice in Wonderland, that’s what I felt I had been left with. Enjoyable at moments, but still a mess.
If you’ve ever read Alice in Wonderland or seen the original Disney cartoon, then you already know what happens in Tim Burton’s movie. Sequel. Semi-sequel. At least I think that’s what it is. Some of the characters talk about Alice’s visit to Wonderland when she was a child. Others were there the first time, but walk around acting like they don’t remember. In the end it doesn’t matter, because what happens in the first film is the EXACT SAME THING that happens in this one. The “drink me,” “eat me” stuff. Meeting the Cheshire Cat. The Mad Hatter’s tea party. For some reason Alice goes through the entire thing all over again.
It’s here that you ask yourself why Burton didn’t scrap the sequel idea and just go for a complete remake, like he did with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. There’s a point in the movie where the Mad Hatter and Alice are walking through the woods, with the Hatter delivering some very creepy poetry. He looks at Alice with dead eyes and in that moment you realize that this character is truly insane. It was the single scene in the entire movie in which the character showed any real depth, but man, what depth. If Burton had taken that and built the movie around it, he could have really had something. Instead, Johnny Depp slips in and out of a Scottish accent and we’re all left scratching our heads in confusion.
I won’t lie. The movie had its moments. In the beginning we see Alice thirteen years on. She’s a young woman being thrown into the same role taken up by so many English women before her, that of adoring wife. Some guy who looks like an extra from The Addams Family is asking her to marry him. Alice, who’s always been given to strange musings and flights of fancy is understandably unexcited, and just as the poor guy pops the question, she runs away, falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland, or Underland, as it’s called now. I would have liked to have seen more of this, as it was the only fresh look we got at the character, with the rest being a tired rehash of the same story passed off as a “sequel.”
The movie does feature some impressive visual designs and effects. It’s all typical Burton so you kind of know what you’re getting yourself into. Some people will really dig it, others might feel that it’s all too much and feels a bit jumbled. There’s enough greenscreen work here to rival the Star Wars prequels. I won’t call it seamless, but some of it is pretty cool, especially with characters like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
The film also features competent performances from its cast, the most notable being Mia Wasikowska as Alice and of course, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Wasikowska comes across as a progressive girl who’s separated herself from reality, viewing the world around her through a pane of glass, and as such she’s completely unfazed by the things she encounters in Underland. The movie’s end suggests that she’s learned something during her time down there, although I’ll be damned if I can remember what that was supposed to be. Johnny Depp is Johnny Depp, and manages to put his own personal stamp on any part he plays. It’s unfortunate that that stamp is centering more and more around crazy makeup and funny voices these days.
I don’t consider myself a diehard Lewis Carroll fan, but I can appreciate why other people are. There’s something in his stories that captivates the eternal child in all of us. The big dreams, the silly games and imaginary adventures. All of this is completely lost on Tim Burton. In the end, the movie seems like nothing more than an excuse the recreate Carroll’s original characters, but you know, all crazy and stuff. The movie is all style, with a few fleeting moments of substance. If you’re looking to see a movie that pays more respect to its source material, you’re probably better off seeing The Crazies. C