After taking the MPRE on Saturday, I needed to relax. I needed to escape. Why not go see Alice in Wonderland? In my mind, Tim Burton could do no wrong. That’s what I thought … until I saw this movie. Overall, it was good enough and it’s worth seeing – at a matinee. However, previous Tim Burton films have led to high expectations and Alice in Wonderland just didn’t live up to those expectations.
The art of Tim Burton’s movies lies in his storytelling. He is brilliant at taking a simple, straightforward story and putting his own dark and charming spin on it. Alice in Wonderland lacks both of these. It’s dark visually, but the essence of Burton is absent from the story and characters. Past films like Edward Scissorhands, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Sweeney Todd are able to balance creepy and lovely. You’re almost charmed by the uncomfortable feelings the movies stir up. From this perspective, Alice in Wonderland failed.
Johnny Depp was also a bit disappointing. He was working hard at being the Mad Hatter and it was obvious. Depp usually excels where most actors fail. He has made a name for himself, and a very successful career, through his ability to inhabit quirky and bizarre characters. He actually becomes people we otherwise could never sympathize with. In Alice, however, he didn't become the Mad Hatter, but rather, he was Johnny Depp acting the way he thought the Mad Hatter might act. Unfortunately, it seems Depp, who notoriously rebelled against Hollywood categorization, has found his niche as “the weird guy.” The Mad Hatter was essentially Willy Wonka with different make up.
There were a few great things about the film that make it worth watching. Visually, it’s stunning. The colors, the music, the effects, and the make up transport you deep inside Burton's twisted imagination. Burton clearly has a thing for trees and there’s no shortage of them in this film. Trees in “Underland” appeared torched and petrified, much like the spirit of those under the rule of the Red Queen. In contrast, trees where the White Queen lived are in full bloom, happily displaying their best gifts for their beloved Queen.
Helen Bonham Carter also shines as Red Queen. Her twisted, Machiavellian desire to be feared rather than loved actually makes her a pitiable figure. The sibling rivalry has gone too far and you almost feel sorry for her in the end. Almost.
Overall, Alice in Wonderland is not a bad film. For one thing, it definitely made me want to read the books again. It just didn’t quite make it over the bar Tim Burton's previous films set so high. Oh well. Maybe next time, Tim.