Imagine if you would a magical world, where anything and everything is possible, where bravery, kindness, and pluck are rewarded, and where the mind and creativity are the world’s greatest treasures. Now, imagine Tim Burton, wearing 3D glasses, feverishly masturbating to a picture of Johnny Depp. Now wait for half an hour so that neither of these images are quite as poignant or affective, combine them, and you’ve got Alice In Wonderland.
Before you all start throwing pies and Jack Skellington Pez-dispensers at me, I should make it clear that I didn’t hate this movie. My opinions will only be perceived as hateful in light of the overwhelming love and devotion that it is bound to spawn.
Burton had some challenges in creating this film. Most notably, rather than following the episodic structure of Lewis Carroll’s stories, he tries to craft a single, continuous narrative that nonetheless incorporates most of their familiar elements. Unfortunately, all of the richness of this new Wonderland is too much to absorb in a 109 minute film. The world now has a history, the characters now have motivations, but there is still an underlying chaos that would be dangerous to remove from any Alice adaptation. As a result, there is a single story that is told, but it suffers for its implications of grandeur leaving little real substance. We know that Alice eventually grows as a person because we’re told she does, but, just as with the original stories, there’s not much of a reason why.
In allowing for the expansion and development of such iconic characters, the re-learning process is a frustrating one. For example, they all now have names. We all know who “The Mad Hatter” is, but when Alice is shouting out for “Tarrant,” there is a struggle to remember who she is referring to.
This deepening of characters is not entirely fruitless however, as some (well actually just one) are given enough time to really grow on audiences. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is the main source of most of the film’s few truly enjoyable scenes. Every so often, his tragic madness allows for the kinds of quirky one-liners that pull the movie out of its too-grand scope and into a single moment of enjoyment.
The world of Wonderland (actually called Underland) is a vast, varied, and whimsical place that is not far off from Avatar‘s Pandora in terms its celebration of imagination. Nevertheless, there is something of Burton-ness that the film’s appearance seems to suffer for. Now, I love curly branched trees as much as the next guy, but there is a difference between whimsy and weirdness, between charm and fear. This movie stays somewhere in between, making sure to be magical enough to still get the Disney banner, but treading into some dark territory, with its eye-gouging and moats filled with severed heads. It doesn’t go full American McGee Alice, but it seems absolutely determined to look like what you would expect from Tim Burton doing Alice in Wonderland.
And really, that’s what you get. A wise woman told me before we went to see it that I was bound to be disappointed if I was looking for a good movie. I should go in expecting the obvious based on who was involved, and just enjoy it. She did, she enjoyed it, and I truly envy her for it.