Somewhere, Lewis Carroll’s ghost is crying, heartbroken that a visionary director like Tim Burton would eschew his abstract nightmare text for a messy traditional story arc. As a result, the original book is rendered all but unrecognizable, which is a shame, because Burton could have been looking at a masterpiece.
The Alice in Burton’s film has already been down the rabbit hole–in her dreams, of course. Now a pretty blonde in her early twenties (!), she is about to be proposed to by a stuffy British Lord. Smothered and weary of a proper lifestyle, Alice sees the White Rabbit (again) and follows it down a hole (again). She’s introduced to the requisite characters–the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who look disturbingly like Pugsly from The Addams Family–and here’s where any similarities to Carroll’s vision end.
You see, apparently, it is foretold in a parchment that Alice is meant to slay the Jabberwocky, a loathsome dragon that was merely a conceptual beast from a poem in Carroll’s text. The Jabberwocky is owned by the Red Queen, played here with a certain delightful ennui by the great Helena Bonham Carter. The Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen, had her sword stolen and Alice must use that sword to kill the Jabberwocky.
With me so far? Good, because I’m not. Look, I’ll carry no shame in admitting that this is where my brain shut off. What we have here is a modern-day deconstruction of a classic tale that would have been far more satisfying had it been translated faithfully. Instead of a series of dreamy set-pieces, as Alice navigates her way through the magic of Wonderland, we get a Disneyfied action film that isn’t satisfied until every last cliche has been wrung out like a wet towel. Johnny Depp is charming as the Mad Hatter, but I must admit, I’ve become tired of his playing quirky characters. And Anne Hathaway, as the flighty White Queen, is one of the most obscene examples of miscasting I can recall. The visuals, when they do come, are muddy and clumsy, as if Burton gathered a compendium of every image from his previous films, shook them all up, and then vomited them on to the screen. There’s no clarity here. The colors are mostly washed out. The entire palette is muted, which makes me wonder if Burton suddenly got cold feet and decided he couldn’t be as daring as he was in, say, Big fish.
But the biggest sin of Alice in Wonderland is that it is downright boring, to the point that I kept mentally urging the whole thing to end. This is a dreadful film, one of the worst I’ve seen from a director of Burton’s pedigree. Where there should be wonder and fancy, there is only lamentation for the muddy visuals and a story that starts off wrong, and only proceeds to get worse.
I’ll give it to Burton that he’s one of the best directors working, and every filmmaker deserves a “Disaster.” Alice in Wonderland is Tim Burton’s “Disaster.” I can only hope he wakes up from this nightmare and realizes that, unlike Alice, he should never, ever go down the rabbit hole again.