Maybe it’s just beyond the capabilities of mankind to produce a truly faithful film adaptation of LEWIS CARROLL’s phantasmic nonsense dispenser ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Many have tried and many have failed. At best you usually end up with something that resembles a very long Ronald McDonaldland commercial and at worst you find yourself confronted by the never should be spoken in the same breath talents of SHERMAN HEMSLEY and CAROL CHANNING. You’d think that marrying director TIM BURTON to the material would be the perfect solution but then you remember that BURTON is a “genius” which is code for, “no longer has the ability to self-edit.” I’ve always thought that the best, most faithful realization of CARROLL‘s vision could be found in the inserts created by JIM HENSON for the underappreciated 1985 film DREAMCHILD and really, the new DISNEY doused incarnation of Wonderland does little to challenge my theory.
As much as BURTON can be relied upon to deliver impressive visuals, you can also bet on the fact that the story is going to be as directionless as a windup toy and that he will inject at least one scene that is off the charts embarrassing (can you say victory break dance?) 2010’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND is at times, splendid to behold but the constant clashing of styles, tone, texture and perspective can be headache inducing as well. For me, the lush, organic exteriors worked the best, whereas the more synthetic looking interiors held no weight at all. There is some beautiful stuff to take in for sure but at some point I do believe my eyeballs just started feeling queasy. You know there’s a problem if you start entertaining the idea of shoving Alka-Seltzer tablets into your retinas. Between you and me though, as tacky as the Spencer’s gift shop aesthetic can sometimes be, I’d be lying if I didn’t at times think that the film would be fun to watch with my long lost college girlfriend Mary Jane.
Operating for the most part as an unofficial sequel, ALICE finds our once curiouser and curiouser moppet about to potentially loose herself to a loveless marriage at the age of 19. (Alice is played by the pretty and pouty MIA WASIKOWSKA…hey, didn’t KATHLEEN TURNER star in a movie about her once?) Props are deserved for the all too rare, girl-power message. Alice gets the chance to yield a sword and slay a dragon (or Jabberwocky) and rather than simply let that stand as a physical act of strength, it’s also made clear that she is fighting to keep her imagination and sense of self alive. I just wish that theme could have been better sewn throughout the entire tale rather than just cushioning the beginning and ending like a pair of fluffy earmuffs. Instead, the force fed creamy center of this tasty cake is plagued by a backlash-baiting JOHNNY DEPP whose Mad Hatter character seems hell bent on claiming the spotlight as his own. JOHNNY is yet another “genius” who needs to get a grip. His performance is so uneven and inconsistent that you get the idea that he approached the role based on passing daily whims. (Sorry, but DEPP‘s “work” in ALICE makes his MARY TYLER WONKA routine seem understated and controlled.)
On the hit-the-nail-on-the-head front, ALAN RICKMAN, as the blue caterpillar, is spot on, STEPHEN FRY as the Cheshire Cat is a welcome relief whenever he materializes and LITTLE BRITAIN’s MATT LUCAS makes an equally convincing Tweedledee as he does a Tweedledum. I have to say though, how dare anyone cast CRISPIN GLOVER in an ALICE IN WONDERLAND film and not give HIM the part of the Mad Hatter? What kinda hooka smoke makes you do that? I know DEPP is a major selling point but c’mon BURTON and DISNEY, you can afford to take a hit to the wallet for the sake of art every once in a while. In addition I’d just like to add, and I don’t mean to sound rude here, I think HELENA BONAM CARTER is seriously one of the most beautiful women who has ever graced the Earth but does she really need that much CGI help in the big head department? Not from where I’m standing.
I guess if I had kids I would probably drag them to see this; regardless, it’s not the worst movie ever made, it just happens to play like a mixed tape of over worked KIDZ BOP cover songs. I suppose I should give BURTON credit for playing against his darker more gothic instincts but when the alternative is so loud and Easter pastel garish, I’m not so sure. This is your fault JIM HENSON, you should have gone to the doctor’s for regular check-ups! That way, both ALICE and I may have someday gotten the movie we deserved.
NOTE: Rather than check out the overseen trailer for BURTON‘s film, let’s take a look at some of Alice’s earlier trips down the rabbit hole. Some work better than others but they are all, as they should be, very kindertraumatic.
TIP: The above video has no sound so play it simultaneously with the music video below (you might need to play the music video twice as it’s shorter) and remember: feed your head!