Anyone who knows me knows I am not a fan of Tim Burton’s. However, I always go into his movies with a sense of hope. After all, he made the masterpiece Ed Wood, and a couple of other good movies (Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd), so he’s not beyond redemption, right? He casts fine actors like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter over and over again, nearly always getting great work out of them. He has a distinctive visual style, one he has had in place since his days as a concept artist at Disney. He actually seemed quite a logical fit to adapt Alice in Wonderland onto the screen in live action, yet what transpired is an unmitigated disaster.
Burton has said that he had no love for previous versions of Alice, “It was always a girl wandering around from one crazy character to another, and I never really felt any real emotional connection." With his adaptation, he hoped to provide "some framework of emotional grounding" and "to try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events.” Which, to me, completely ignores the charm of Lewis Carroll’s creation. Nothing lasts for too long, there’s no story, we’re just led on an episodic journey through this strange land filled with even stranger people. What Burton does is change Alice into a 19-year-old girl feeling repressed by Victorian England, who escapes (as she did when she was young) again into Wonderland. Bastardization of Carroll and action sequences galore follows as Burton proceeds to ruin the hopeful goodwill I’d had going into the movie.
Johnny Depp is, thankfully, a source of escape. His creation of the Mad Hatter was the thing I’d least looked forward to, after the ridiculous designs debuted on the posters, and equally ridiculous voice I heard in the previews. Instead, as I should’ve expected from Depp, he’s the best thing in the movie. He gives the Hatter a believable unpredictability, combined with Depp’s innate intelligence and charisma. He proves yet again (not that he truly needed to) that he is one of the handful of best actors of his generation. Helena Bonham Carter is fine as the Red Queen, I guess, but isn’t particularly memorable. Anne Hathaway as the White Queen and Mia Wasikowska as our Alice both acquit themselves nicely. Although, again, neither is anything too memorable. Sadly, the absolutely perfect choice of Alan Rickman as the hookah smoking caterpillar feels completely wasted. All of these could have something to do with a script totally lacking in anything resembling charm (I assume Depp brought some from the never-ending supply he must keep at home).
Which brings us, finally, to the catastrophic decision to have to movie be in 3-D, that most annoying of gimmicks and current pop culture sweetheart. Instead of this world of invention and wonder springing to life with tremendous color and idea, we get the drabness brought along by the 3-D glasses, and the uselessness of the 3-D itself. 3-D adds less than nothing to the experience of watching a movie, in fact taking away from it as we aren’t allowed to lose ourselves in the story because we’re constantly being reminded that we’re watching a 3-D movie. I don’t fault Burton for 3-D’s lack of relevance as a whole, but he is the one who decided to ruin his already hit-or-miss creation with such an infuriating artifice. I had hoped to actually enjoy this movie, one which seems to fit perfectly into Burton’s overall career arc, but I was defeated at nearly every turn when looking for something enjoyable about it.