I love it when a movie reviews itself.
Throughout the vast majority of its first three quarters (or possibly even longer), Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland tells you exactly what’s wrong with it. Characters constantly referr to relative unknown Mia Wasikowska as “the wrong Alice”, which is true in more ways than one.
I’ll start right off and get the hyperbole out of the way. Alice in Wonderland is my favorite book; its sequel Through the Looking Glass (which more often than not is bunched together with the original in various film/TV adaptations) is also pretty high up on my list. So, needless to say, my expectations were high. Especially considering the people involved. So when I first heard Burton and crew were not doing a direct adaptation of the novel, but rather a “several years later, Alice returns” sort of story, first pangs of disappointment started creeping through.
Honestly, I don’t get it. It’s been almost 60 years since the Disney Alice, and 11 years since the Hallmark adaptation (the last “loyal” version I can recall). Why are people obsessed with the “Alice returns” storyline? Both Tim Burton’s movie and the recent SyFy channel’s attempt have told this storyline, as well as American McGee’s video game retelling (which is getting a sequel… soonish) and the Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series of novels. While McGee’s re-imagining of the Alice universe is an exception, the other two fall short of the real deal. I can’t say I’m having problems picturing why. Lewis Carroll’s original story was published over 150 years ago, and it is still one of the most beloved children’s novels to have come out. Why constantly try and break it? Why not put the technology and money to use, recreating a faithful Alice for the 21st century?
There is another problem inherent in writing an original story set in the Alice universe. There are the Alice fanatics (such as myself) who will want all sorts of little references and hints that show that while this is a different story, this is still the Alice world we all know and love. There is also the matter of billing the movie as Alice in Wonderland and not Random Girl in a Weird-as-Shit Place. So the director (or author or whoever) is obligated to put in all these winks and nods to the original, most of which are shoe-horned in and feel forced. So in Tim Burton’s latest you have the Dodo or the talking flowers which show up just for the sake of showing up. TweedleDee and TweedleDum are also a walking, talking plot device, meant to inspire “hey cool, it’s TweedleDee and TweedleDum” thoughts, but really, their part could have been done by anyone.
The other thing relating to the original Alice and an original story in the world of Wonderland is the language. Carroll was clever, damned clever. This movie in no way recreates the witty feel of the original. Occasionally you’ll have character spouting off lines from the original, but they lack context and the delivery is lacking. Depp’s recitation of “Jabberwocky” (one of my all time favorite poems) as a creepy, ominous prophecy just doesn’t work. As well as the myriad of other times bits and pieces of the original’s dialogue make it into the film (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat” and the whole “Queen of Heart’s Tarts” fiasco are special offenders).
So, that is one way in which Tim Burton gets “the wrong Alice”. An original tale, however, can be good (as proven by American McGee’s rendition). However, the entire movie falls apart if your Alice is, well, wrong. Mia Wasikowska is most definitely wrong. Her acting is truly horrible, and I don’t think I spotted a single moment in the movie when she conveyed a single emotion. It’s frustrating, as most of the rest of cast are quite good, in the limited capacity they are offered. Helena Bonham Carter is fantastic as the Queen of Hearts Red Queen (honestly, what’s up with that?), Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter had a couple of great little quirks to it that made the character unique to any other portrayals I’ve seen. Additionally, unlike the latest Burton/Depp/Carter travesty – Sweeny Todd, Depp did something unique to this character. I found his Sweeny Todd to be very much a recycling of Jack Sparrow/Willy Wonka, so I was pleased that he brought something new to the Hatter.
My absolute favorite was Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat, who brought something truly special to the character. The cat is often overlooked in Alice, but it really is the character that ties the book together, and Alice’s guide in Wonderland the first time she visits. It’s nice to see Fry give the cat (for some reason, all the characters were given names, but I don’t think anyone really remembers them) both its wild, crazy, mischievous qualities, as well as its more caring and considerate side. All this with only the use of his voice. I really expected to like Alan Rickman’s caterpillar because, let’s face it, it’s the Metatron, but it really wasn’t all that special. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly good, either. It was a standard “wise sage who throws out cryptic shit that turns out to have been the right answer all along” routine. And by-gods if I have to sit through the “caterpillar turns into a butterfly” schtick again, I’m going to throw something at the screen. It’s getting old people, and it’s no longer clever.
Lastly, I saw the movie in 3D, despite my desire. I tried looking for a non-3D version, but there are only two places in the entire country showing the non-3D variety, and those would have been filled with little kids. I honestly don’t see any reason for this movie to be in 3D, as there was utterly nothing unique or special about it added by the 3D. There is this recent trend to stick 3D to any movie that’s coming out, and I really wish it would stop. Those glasses are uncomfortable (especially considering I already wear glasses) and it makes the ticket price higher. I don’t want to sound like a miser, but I’m on a student-budget, I can only afford to go see a movie when it’s a special movie I’ve been looking forward too, so having the ticket cost nearly twice as much, sure isn’t helping.
So, to sum things up, I was not impressed with this lates Alice in Wonderland. I liked the visual design of the movie, Burton always has that going for him, but I would have rather seen this design used for a real Alice movie, rather than some excuse to put all these characters together.
And it’s because Poe wrote on both, Hatter. Because Poe wrote on both.