Review: Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland
Its been conventional wisdom for years that Tim Burton should make a version of Alice in Wonderland. When it was originally announced that he was finally undertaking the project, I was overjoyed at the prospect of Burton taking his morbid touches to an already absurd story and coming out with a totally unique version of the tale that would stand alongside the multitudes of other adaptations. When i heard he was making his as a sequel, I thought it was even better news. Unburdened by the standards before him, Burton would finally be able to let his freak flag fly on one of the weirdest, most wondrous stories ever told. Instead, what he delivered was tepid, safe, and more than a little cliche.

Mia Wasikowska plays the older Alice as a bit of an existentialist, determined to make her life her own and resistant to any notion that she might have a destiny to fulfill. This is the stuff of a potentially interesting fantasy film, but not the stuff of Carroll's Wonderland. The original book, and the best adaptations that have been made of it, thrive on the absurdity of life and the chaos that can come from trying to impose self-created systems of order onto an existence that resists being typified, even by logic. Burton (who seems to be phoning in his direction, as the movie lacks almost any semblance of his touch, discounting the cast) abandons the sense of the weird, and with it the whimsy that makes Alice such an enduring tale. Instead, he has created a standard struggle between good and evil that ends up feeling more like a trip to Narnia than a journey through Wonderland.

Even Johnny Depp, usually a treasure to behold in even mediocre movies, turns in a flat and largely boring performance as the not-really-that-mad Hatter, whose only noticeable tick is an occasional Scottish accent, and who is far too cognizant of the goings on around him to qualify as anything more than eccentric. Depp's Willy Wonka would have made a more convincing Mad Hatter than he does here, and the opportunity for a bold new creation from him seems utterly wasted. In fact, most of the cast (with the exception of Anne Hathaway, whose White Queen is tongue-in-cheek and slightly off kilter in a way that at least resembles what Lewis Carroll envisioned) give boring performances, from Alan Rickman's exposition-heavy Caterpillar to Stephen Fry's fairly straightforward Chesshire Cat. Even Helena Bonham Carter, whose head is for some reason blown up to bulbous proportions just does the standard yelling required of anyone playing the Red Queen and moons over Crispin Glover's Knave, who seems to be present simply so that he can fight the Mad Hatter in an action sequence that feels nothing if not forced. These are not the lunatic creations of Carroll's fevered prose, they are caricatures shoe-horned into a story far too conventional to allow them any room for madness.

Burton abandoned the inspired lunacy and free form construction of Wonderland in favor of Underland, which steals the events from every Alice story you've ever seen, but leaves the joy and life of them elsewhere. Underland isn't a world where the logic you cling to is questioned by every person you meet, its a place where CGI dragons (in the form of another Carroll creation borrowed in name only, the Jabberwocky) face off with empowered women; it isn't a place where the thrilling and unexpected occur because nothing makes sense except the nonsensical, its a place where prophecies are followed and good fights evil. In short, Tim Burton wrought an Alice in Wonderland so safe and predictable it sucks the joy out of every bizarre creation he tries to throw in to spice things up. It is not nearly enough that he gives all of the characters and events eccentric names because their actions (barring Depp's cringe worthy dance sequence near the film's conclusion) are anything but. Wonderland is never the type of place that adheres to the cause and effect structure of any sort of plot (especially not one so boring and conventional), its the sort of inspired madhouse that asks you why a raven is like a writing desk, when it knows that the two are as dissimilar as Burton's film and its source material.

Grade: C
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