This is going to be another long winded personal introduction before I start the actual review. I will start with an explanation on Tim Burton. When I was younger, he was my favorite filmmaker. I admired his gothic sensibilities and the fact that he could get away with making such personal films under the Hollywood system. This is mostly because his sensibilities are not actually that dark. They are less the obsessions of David Lynchian drug addicts going through mid-life crisis’ and more the obsessions of that child in your seventh grade class who was just discovering that girls are beautiful creatures and who’s only goal in life is to keep doodling in his notebook. Not that I am complaining-films are meant to embrace every single aspect of the human existence and we have all been through that phase. I consider Tim Burton to be a sort of “baby’s first autuer.” Show him to the kiddies and they will eventually be ready for the big boys like Godard, Lynch, Kurosawa, Fellini, Scorsese, Herzog, Renoir, Cronenberg depending on who you are talking to, and all the others. At least, it worked for me. For being my introduction to this world, I do contain a soft spot for Burton.
So, with that in mind, what is my opinion of his new opus, Alice in Wonderland? It is very, very hit and miss.
“I do not have any emotional connection with any other adaptation of Alice” Burton said in an interview. Neither do I. I did like the Nick Willing Hallmark movie version, but that is about it. The Disney version was unnecessarily cartoonish and eliminated much of the satire present in the original work. Burton decided to take his own approach. I applaud the idea. But if he wanted to make his own original story, then couldn’t he have created a better one than this?
Yes, the film is a sequel to the original narrative. Thirteen years after her first trip, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns just in time for the “frabjous” day. Apparently, she is destined by the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, who like Randy in A Christmas Story, never puts her arms down) to slay the Jabberwocky and free Underland from the rule of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover, for whom sanity is no longer a problem). She does not believe herself to be the one destined to do this, and has to be encouraged from the usual band of denizens including the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Josh Lucas), and the Chesire Cat (Stephen Fry).
Now, Burton was the ideal person to direct the material. Burton’s usual visual style does work well. The film LOOKS fantastic. I don’t think Wonderland has ever looked better. Burton’s para more Carter is also quite well cast and may be the best cinematic Red Queen ever. Most play the character as some bi-polar addled monster. She plays the role like a spoiled child, used to surrounding herself with sycophants and getting everything she wants. Johnny Depp is….well he is not terrible but this is far from his best performance. I am not sure who to blame for that. I guess in context of the film, it works. Still, it is not a stand out. But his performance is not my biggest gripe with the film.
Wny depend on deconstructing Joseph Campbell’s hero journey as the plot? I know the book has none of its own, but why simply show us the same one we have already seen? Wonderland, especially a wonderland of this caliber, needs something to suit it. Why not make Wonderland a reflection of Alice’s own psyche? OK, it’s been done and that does happen once in the film (a gazebo where Alice must make an important decision appears in both worlds), but not nearly enough to have any further discussion of it. Why not have characters from the real world represent figures in Wonderland, making it a sort of Oz parable? Why not have wonderland be contained in a mental institution or a toy shop? Just throwing ideas out there-all of which I feel are stronger than what is presented in the film.
Do we need Alice to wear armor and debate whether or not she will accept her destiny? Does anybody honestly not know how the film will end? If you can’t predict the ending based on the plot synopsis, then I have some wonderful broken glass you might like to play with. And as far as aesthetics, do we need to give the Mad Hatter a Broadsword?
I have far more questions than I have answers. The one I don’t have is how much I like it. Burton does do the best he can with the material. The film is still very well paced and well directed. But I have used the analogy of a brilliant artist painting something ugly before. Careful craft may go into it. The artist may know what he is doing. But why bother? That is ultimately the question I have hear. This world transcends the material we are presented with and should have been given a proper movie.