Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Woolverton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonhman Carter, Crispin Glover, Mia Wasikowski
At times a perfect match of material to director can result in such a putrid final product that perhaps their combination should be reconsidered. With a story as whimsical and visually unique as the source material may be, Alice in Wonderland surely makes itself stand out for its presentation but the story definitely lacks cohesion.
Having refused an arranged marriage, Alice (Mia Wasikowski) falls into a rabbit hole and lands in Wonderland. There she meets a wide array of eccentric characters and quickly learns that the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) wants to take off her head. Through interactions with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) she learns about her past and what she represents in this world.
As a filmmaker, Tim Burton’s lineup of films fascinates me to no end as he impressed with his 1980s films like Beetlejuice and Batman but then turns around and makes this film. Not only does he make this film, but then he can also do something as great as Big Eyes. Burton has always been a filmmaker more focused on style rather than substance, but that style has permeated into pop culture for decades and now and his mark certainly cannot be denied. With Alice in Wonderland he takes on a story that tells the sequel of the original tale and while he delivers with his trademark visuals, the story elements fail to come together.
The character designs could be interpreted as stunning or the work of nightmares depending on the perspective of the viewer. Burton took these characters that had a distinct look from the original 1951 animated film and made them fit his aesthetic style, which I give him credit for. The pair that stand out the most to me are Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas). Their appearance on-screen feels jarring at first but they all seem to fit in once the bigger picture can be seen. These visual decisions start to make more sense then, but it certainly does not work for all of its characters.
One of those characters being the Mad Hatter portrayed by Johnny Depp. While being a character meant to garner sympathy, Depp’s performance soured the character because it became another Jack Sparrow rip off performance. It seems that Depp has enjoyed the Sparrow performance so much within the Pirates of the Carribean franchise that he’s decided to just do that for every single character moving forward. It can be felt in the Mad Hatter performance and it became jarring at times. Similarly but to a lesser effect, Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen looks very interesting visually, to say the least, as well. With her having a larger head purposefully in the story, not much was added to the character to make her more compelling, which became a squandered opportunity. The appearance of the Red Queen did put me back a bit because her visual appearance became rather unsettling, but in the end, she fits into this weird visual nightmare that Burton created.
For this story to succeed, it needs to have a successful Alice that the audience can root for and Mia Wasikowska was just fine in the film. Having to take on an Alice that has no idea how she fits into this world made the story a bit more interesting but it all comes together in a rather slapdash way with all of the characters that she had to meet and creatures she needed to take on. I kept getting lost in who she should be looking for and what creatures were meant to be her enemy in the process of finding the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and avoiding the Red Queen. It just became very sloppy and the story could not remain focused on its narrative, so it introduced a whole slew of visually jarring characters. That may have been the point, but I cannot say that it came together well.
Alice in Wonderland had the makings of being something special. With all of the problems I have with its narrative, the visuals do their job and make characters, whose designs will forever be seared into my brain. They are distinct and have their flair, but it needs a story to follow, which Tim Burton failed to do cohesively in this film.