In the perfect world, Alice in Wonderland could be released without having to be considered by people above a certain age as “Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland”. If the exact same movie had been made by someone with no name to speak of, the viewers would be more free to loudly proclaim that the movie kind of sucks.
I’m free to do that now, of course: this movie kind of sucks.
There’s a stigma to having done so, though. Had I loved it, I would have been a Tim Burton sympathiser in a dense jungle of haters. Had I hated it, which is almost my position, I would have been a petty fool who can’t understand true greatness.
So ignore Tim Burton, and take Alice in Wonderland on its own merits: fact is, it doesn’t have many. It’s simply not a good or interesting movie, and no name can mask that fact.
Six year old girl Alice dreams about a strange fantasy land replete with rabbits in waistcoats, blue caterpillars and men with hats. Thirteen years later, Alice is a society woman expected to marry a lord. Naturally, to escape such responsibility, she follows a white rabbit down a hole. There she is tasked with slaying the Jabberwock and restoring the White Queen to her rightful place on the throne, all the while convinced she’s simply wandering in a dream.
Perhaps I went in to the exercise too cynical, but that is an easy cop out: many movies have started with my skepticism and ended with my heart won over, my accolades raining down upon the production staff. The fact of the matter is, though, that I went to Alice expecting a non-starter, and I left having seen a movie that failed to start.
It’s hard to say exactly where Alice in Wonderland goes wrong. An easy list can be composed, in that it is dull, lacks meaningful character development and boasts absolutely nothing in the way of charm, but one could not launch into a dissertation on its failings. It is a failed work, rather than a work that comes just shy of providing satisfaction. It is dull to watch and it is dull to discuss. There is absolutely no sheen or spark to speak of, no legitimate spectacle, and the 3D is an imposition rather than an improvement.
The fact of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is that it is an exercise in laziness. To Burton, the mere existence of talking animals is funny, despite the fact that we’ve been cognizant of them for approximately sixty years. Helena Bonham-Carter’s Red Queen is funny because she is a tyrant with a literally big head. It is true that Bonham-Carter is one of the film’s few highlights, but her whimsy seems much like the rest of the film’s playfulness: arbitrary and bland – worse, “wacky”.
Entirely discounting the largely phoned in voice cast, Johnny Depp is easily the worst offender. I’ve suspected for a while that Depp has simply decided he doesn’t need to try any more; that he can cruise on the strength of his own name. The Mad Hatter doesn’t necessarily have to be consistent, but Depp is all over the place in the role, frequently unintelligible and quite often – and without explanation – speaking in an angry Scots brogue. It’s not right to call him horrible, because the movie is not without its tiny moments of triumph and he can be compelling, but a clear lack of effort has been expended on his part.
The story is thin, which would be fine if it were interesting, or if it went anywhere, or if the movie had sufficient splendour to sustain the lack of substance. Anne Hathaway’s White Queen is bland, with room provided to be slightly sinister that she never runs with. She has a pleasant one note joke, but is as unwelcoming as the rest of it.
The brightest spot in the enterprise is Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat, who is the best presented character in the movie, well performed and almost – almost – a charmer. Like the rest of the characters, his presence is almost negligible, but he does just enough to pique one’s interest. Alan Rickman’s imposition of a moral on Alice is uncalled for, especially as Mia Wasikowska tries hard to pretend that she has had any reason to care for any of the characters that she’s come across. For a movie that somehow is about a hero’s journey, the hero lacks heroism … or anything really approximating character. The worst crime of development has been committed here: a character is rendered clever and interesting merely by the virtue that other characters have suggested that she is so.
Alice in Wonderland is a perfect excuse to be bored for 109 minutes. I would almost go so far as to suggest that Tooth Fairy was a better movie – the audience certainly laughed more at that – but Alice in Wonderland at least made me feel something, even if that something was a bored disgust at the wastage of the modern age.
Tim Burton has made good films in the past; he’s bound to make them again. Relatively speaking, Alice in Wonderland can be said to be better than Mars Attacks!.
Sometimes that’s all you can ask.