Little wonder – Alice in Wonderland review

Alice in Wonderland – Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated PG. Originally published March 9, 2010. By Simon Miraudo.

Tim Burton is not the filmmaker we think he is, or at the very least, not the filmmaker he wants us to think he is. He is neither the master-of-the-macabre, hero of the outcast, nor the Hans Christian Anderson of a new generation, primarily because of the reasons why he is considered such. He may very well have been a loner and an outcast growing up, but perhaps that is why he is unwilling to claim the crown of oddball filmmakers. After all, why else would he have spent the past decade trotting out pale ‘Burton-esque’ imitations of his own work? His raison d’etre has always been his gorgeous (and by that I mean ‘grotesque’) creature designs, but I would hardly say his imagination is ‘boundless’. Ken Johnson at the New York Times, while reviewing an exhibit of Burton’s filmic art at the MOMA said, “despite Mr. Burton’s lifelong drawing and doodling habit, he never ventures into unexpected formal or technical territory.” We know what to expect from a Tim Burton film. There are no more surprises. Therefore, this is not the man we want to direct Alice in Wonderland.

Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a retelling of (as well as an extension upon) Lewis Carroll’s classic novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. We all know the story; a young girl called Alice falls down a rabbit hole and tumbles into a universe of extraordinary eccentricities, filled with timeless characters such as The Mad Hatter, The Red Queen and The Cheshire Cat. Alice 2010 takes a slightly different route. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now 19 years old, and is convinced that her recollections of Wonderland are simply a recurring dream. She’s about to accept a proposal of marriage from a right toff when The White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) tempts her back down the rabbit hole. And back down she tumbles…

…except Wonderland is not the same place that she remembers (or should that be, doesn’t remember). The kindly White Queen (Anne Hathaway) has been usurped by her bulbous-headed sister, conveniently named ‘The Red Queen’ (Helena Bonham Carter). As a result, all the universe’s inhabitants are paralysed with fear under the shadow of the domical despot. Even The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has gone a little madder. Alice’s old friends implore her to save them from their tyrannical ruler, and defeat her prize pet, the Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee). But Alice is still convinced that this is all a dream, and she keeps kicking her heels together and chanting “there’s no place like home”. Well, not really. But close enough.

I must say, the alteration of the storyline is not unwelcome. The screenplay was written by Disney gun-for-hire Linda Woolverton, no stranger to updating classic tales (she previously penned the scripts for Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King). She delivers surprises where Burton has failed to come up with his own. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Burton is unable to adequately evoke the titular sense of wonder necessary for a CGI-filled adaptation of Carroll’s tales. It’s just so … Burton. I doubt anyone with even a passing familiarity of the filmmaker’s work could be surprised by any of the imagery in this film.

It also doesn’t help that Mia Wasikowska’s Alice acts so utterly unimpressed with what occurs throughout the film. She is our eyes into this world, and she seems completely bored, always insistent that everything around her isn’t really happening. I understand why Wasikowska made the choices she did, but I don’t have to like them. It can’t be easy performing in front of a green screen, told to react to objects and characters she can’t even see. But hey, her fellow countryman Sam Worthington was able to pull it off in Avatar – and he’s hardly Laurence Olivier.

This is not a negative review of Alice in Wonderland. No, I mean it! Despite what has been said in the past few paragraphs, I actually did enjoy Burton’s film. Although the character designs are not unexpected, the way these CG characters interact is nearly flawless, aided by fantastic vocal performances. Although I regretted Wasikowska’s decisions as Alice, I adored the decisions made by Depp and Bonham Carter (who effortlessly remind us why they are two of the most sought after character actors in Hollywood). And even though Burton is unable to channel much suspense or awe, the film is a sumptuous visual delight. It all adds up to a mildly enjoyable adventure, sadly lacking in ambition. Curiouser and curiouser? I was left feeling only a little curious.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Alice in Wonderland arrives on DVD and Blu-ray July 1, 2010.

One Response to “Little wonder – Alice in Wonderland review”

  1. Come on man, Depp and Bonham Carter were borderline pathetic in this film, and their performances describe the rest of the movie too. This was actually the one time I've wanted to walk out of the cinema before credits. A painful travesty

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