REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland

21 03 2010

No matter your opinion on director Tim Burton, it can’t be denied that the man has some true creativity.  This spark is what gained him notoriety in the late ’80s and early ’90s with hits like “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”  Recently, however, Burton has seemed to have found that creativity isn’t always synonymous with originality, and has mainly spent the past five years retooling other people’s work.

But while Burton puts his own unique spin on these projects, I have felt that each of them has lost a very distinct part of their original identity.  With his remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” the movie lost most of its original charm and fun.  His film adaptation of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” dropped a sizable portion of Stephen Sondheim’s songs, and the story lost a great deal of character development.

Unfortunately, “Alice in Wonderland” falls into the same pattern.  This time, Burton has stripped the movie of a lot of its sense.  Granted, this is a fairly non-sensical story, so this isn’t the worst movie to receive this treatment.  But Burton makes it lose even the most basic coherency, and no movie can be excused for that.

It’s hard to describe what exactly Burton’s take on “Alice in Wonderland” actually is.  It is not a remake of the Disney animated classic like I assumed it would be.  But it is not any sort of sequel, prequel, revamping, or modernizing of anything we have ever seen.  This version is just off in its own little world, reminding us of our favorite characters but never giving us any reason to fall in love with them again.

The story follows Alice (Mia Wasikowska) at the age of 19, once again drawn by the white rabbit into the magical world where the impossible is very possible.  The land is now being ruled by the ruthless Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), whose reign of terror is enforced by the fearsome Jabberwocky.  Alice becomes public enemy #1 whenever it is foreseen that she will slay the beast.  To ensure that her head stays on her shoulders, Alice enlists the help of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) along with a few other oddballs including the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp).

Burton said that his intention was to “try and make Alice feel more like a story as opposed to a series of events” because he never felt an emotional connection between the characters in the original.  In this respect, his version is an utter disaster.  I saw exactly the opposite of what he intended: Alice wandering from place to place with absolutely no plot building.

On the acting side of things, this is obviously Mia Wasikowska’s big moment, and this movie is obviously going to get her noticed.  I’m sure this is only the beginning of many movies that we see this young talent in.  As for the old pros, the only person that seems to be having any fun is Helena Bonham Carter.  She makes the character her own, and it works.  Not to mention, she made me chuckle every time she spat out the Red Queen’s trademark phrase “off with her head!”  Johnny Depp can’t seem to make any more sense out of the Mad Hatter than we can, and in Anne Hathaway’s brief moments on screen, she seems to be fascinated only with twirling around the set like a ballerina.

In fact, the only thing about “Alice in Wonderland” that was executed exceptionally well was the mischievous Cheshire Cat, voiced by British comedian Stephen Fry.  Striking the perfect balance between cute and dastardly, I found myself consistently begging for the blue smoke to materialize into the devilish kitty.  But most of my wishing was not rewarded, much like my wishing for the movie to become something other than a mess.  However, it is a mess that is distinctly Tim Burton – whether that’s good or not is up to you.  C /