“Alice in Wonderland” Has a Queen of Hearts (But no Real Heart)


I expected to either love the new movie Alice in Wonderland or hate it.

Let’s face it: it’s directed by Tim Burton, the visual genius behind Edward Scissorshands, Beetle Juice, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and who seems to have been born to make this movie.

Then again, he’s also the director of Big Fish, Mars Attacks!, and Planet of the Apes, incoherent movies that make you think, "How in the hell could the same director who made Beetle Juice have made this piece of crap?"

Burton has always been way-hit or way-miss, so that’s what I thought Alice in Wonderland would be: visually stunning with an engaging story to match it, or visually stunning with no concern for story whatsoever.

Turns out it’s kind of in the middle. Oh, there’s almost no story to speak of (although it’s also not the incoherent mess that was Planet of the Apes). Or maybe it’s just that the visual images are so interesting, and so well-suited to this particular story, that it manages to sustain your interest, at least for the run of the film.

Alice is a (very) head-strong 19-year-old girl, being pushed into a life of convention that she doesn’t want, and that is nothing like the life of her unconventional, but dead, father.

She does what I’d do in a situation like this: she follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole to a dream-like wonderland called Underland — a place where a girl named Alice visited once before and made a strong impression.

Alice is prophesied to saved Underland by defeating the evil Jabberwocky — but is this the Alice?

And that’s it. That’s literally the whole story.

Oh, sure, there’s some very vague talk about how Alice has to reconcile the idea that
things can be both "real" and "impossible," which is something her dead
father apparently excelled at and made him a great success in life. But
it’s all very slight.

Anyway, if you’re gripped by the simple idea of a girl on a quest to kill the Jabberwocky, you’ll be gripped by this movie. And if not, well, there are a lot of amazing things to look at.

It’s to be expected in a Tim Burton picture, but it truly is visually stunning. In the myriad adaptations, riffs, and reimaginings of Lewis Carroll‘s classic children’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Lookinglass, and What Alice Found There, Wonderland — or Underland, since Alice apparently got the name wrong the first time around — has literally never looked so good.

Best of all, it all fits perfectly together, visually speaking. The movie has a coherent "look."

What else works? 

After years of toiling in the shadow of her Svengali-like husband Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter has finally found a role in one of his movies where she triumphs. She’s fantastic: hilarious as the insane (and insanely insecure) queen with the over-sized head.

Anne Hathaway is less successful in her cartoon-version of The White Queen, and Johnny Depp is simply playing Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands again. It’s great that he’s willing to play fey characters, and make them heroic, even in big-budget motion pictures. But is he going to keep playing the same fey character over and over again?

Alice in Wonderland is a big-budget studio picture and, in fairness, it should probably be compared to all the other, mostly soul-less big-budget studio pictures, like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, not some idealized Alice in Wonderland in my mind.

In that respect, it’s an artistic triumph. But, um, that’s setting the bar rather low.

I was frustrated that the filmmakers didn’t give us the slightest wiff of a reason to care about Alice and her story — especially since this movie had the potential to be a classic on par with the books.

What’s your take on the film?


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