Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Theatrical Poster
Tim Burton

6/10 (pissing on the legacy of a children’s classic)

Burton essentially took the characters from Carroll’s stories and wrote a tale with them that had little to do with any of the original material. This surprised me, as I knew very little going into it, and it disappointed me as well. I beg to differ with Burton, who has said that he doesn’t consider this a “re-imagining” of the original stories. If you take a book, use all of its most famous characters, and throw in your own plot that never existed, that is most definitely a “re-imagining.” It’s almost the definition.

The result? It´s a cavalier, almost blasphemous thing to do with such rich source material. But Burton is on record as saying that the original stories were too episodic for him and didn’t touch him emotionally. Thus, he tried to create a coherent narrative (which is counter to nearly the entire point of the Alice stories) in order to better involve the audience. There is an irony here, since one of the problems of the film is that even after such an emotional renovation it still feels hollow and heartless. But beyond this irony, it would have been more creatively responsible for Burton to just write his own Narnia-esque story using different characters. Instead, it feels like he either tried to capitalize on the fame of Carroll’s story, or just wanted to realize his chidlhood fantasy of working with the magical “Alice” characters. This smells more of exploitation than homage, and it’s difficult not to see it as Burton indulging a childhood fantasy at the expense of quality and respect for history.

I don’t want to give the impression that I take it too seriously. “Blasphemous” is too strong of a word. Ultimately, it just bothers me that entire generations will experience Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” as the definitive version, when it is so far from the original that it almost feels exploitative. I felt the same way, but to a greater extent, about the recent “Sherlock Holmes,” which I probably won’t see.

My chief complaint aside, I had various problems with the production of the movie as well. First, Johnny Depp´s Mad Hatter wasn’t nearly crazy enough. In the same interview linked above, Burton talks about Depp wanting to find weight to the character. But if you give him a reason for being insane, he’s no longer insane! This is what happens when you try to insert plot where none ever existed: you ruin the spirit of the entire enterprise.

Besides being spectacular in 3D, there were also some visual aspects that just didn’t work. The CGI on Crispin Glover’s Knave of Hearts character was distracting. I see no reason why he needed to be digitally elongated. Also, I wish the Cheshire had been less cartoonish. Does nobody else see the relation to Garfield here? Burton had a realistic-looking rabbit, hare, mouse, dog, and caterpillar. So why couldn’t he make a realistic Cheshire?

The rest of the CGI was pretty flawless at least, but another non-CGI complaint was Anne Hathaway´s White Queen. She was just weird. It was probably Burton’s intention, but it just kind of creeped me out and confused me. She was really the “good guy” that I was supposed to root for? Uh, thanks but no thanks. Finally, the Mad Hatter´s (and Alice´s) dance at the end was just stupid. It completely spoiled the mood of the film. If you’re going to make a Victorian fantasy movie, don’t stick a digital 15-second modern funk dance on the end of it for laughs.

As a minor aside, the movie’s envelope was head-scratching, especially the end. We are taught that you need to defy convention and break out of pre-ordained roles in order to. . . become a rich capitalist and economically exploit China? Are you serious? I understand that one has to consider the context of the Victorian era, when Alice would have been breaking down barriers by becoming an independent woman, but I think that’s a weak justification. Essentially, Burton is telling us that Alice, after slaying the Jabberwocky, will now self-actualize by subjecting China to colonization. This is the best “dream” Burton could come up with? Talk about out of touch.

Ultimately, the main problems of this film (completely changing the plot, exploiting beloved characters, making stupid dances) illustrate Burton’s main problem mentioned immediately above: he has lost touch. After the equally problematic “Chocolate Factory,” we can safely call it a trend. Well, I didn’t see “Sweeney Todd” but maybe someone can chime in to tell me if it continues the trend. But just look at his picture on wikipedia. Does that look to you like a person who is still in touch with reality?

It’s funny that Burton was concerned about creating an emotional impact, and then came out with this, five years after “Charlie.” They are two visually beautiful but emotionally hollow husks of large-studio productions. Or maybe Burton is just too fucked up emotionally to be able to relate to audiences anymore, I don’t know. Films like “Edward Scissorhands” and even “Big Fish” bely that presumption. He should go back to making movies more like those.

17 March 2010

Other Reviews for “Alice”


2 Responses to “Alice in Wonderland (2010)”

  1. I think your criticism is quite scathing, but mainly because you focus on the worst parts of a mainly mediocre, yet at least entertaining, movie. I kind of liked his re-imagining of the tale, although I understand your point is to lash out against his hypocrisy on the subject. I just wish it was executed better, the story could have been so much fuller and richer. It like he half-assed his way to making an epic film, and there is no half-assing epics. You got to either plunk down for three hours and seriously develop your characters and storyline, or break it out into 2 or 3 movies.

    I agree with most of your points – the white queen was totally whack and I felt totally un-sypmathetic towards her, the Hatter was one of Depp’s weakest performances in years, and the movie began and ended with an entirely different story than what was told in Wonderland.

    Also, I did see Sweeney Todd and I really liked it, but that could be a function of that story being told closely to the original and having a fantastic supporting cast – including the one and only Sacha Baren Cohen. The plot line for Alice was just way too simplistic. I think someone’s budget got cut because of the need for 3D and CGI. I bet looking back at this movie in 10 years it will seem even worse because the effects won’t dazzle the eye’s and the lack of depth to the plot will be far easier to see.

    • Thanks Marco, for taking the time to read and post.

      You raise some good points, and I actually agree with you for the most part. My review is pretty negative, mostly because I figured that any good things about it (the visuals and atmosphere, mostly) were self-evident, and I didn’t want to waste any internet space mentioning them. You’ll notice that I still gave the movie a 6, despite all of the things I didn’t like about it. This means that, though flawed, I still found it worthwhile as far as mindless entertainment goes. I can’t be certain but I’m pretty sure that Burton is solely responsible for the plot of the film. I would imagine he has pretty free reign from his producers.

      However, I still stand by my fierce criticism of the way that Burton twisted (and exploited?) Carroll’s original material. Unlike you, I don’t see any reason to re-imagine “Alice.” I think if Burton had simply made a live-action version of the Disney cartoon, it would have been much better. Also, you inadvertently prove my point by referring to the movie as “mediocre.” A film with such high expectations, rich source material, and A-list actors and director has no business being anything less than “good.” Otherwise, it’s a failure (like grading on a curve). But still, as I said, entertaining at least.

      Thanks again, and please keep donating your two cents.

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