Alice in Wonderland is Tim Burton’s latest gloriously gorgeous but dreary film. Why a guy with such an incredible sense of the macabre has no sense of humor is totally beyond me.
Alice is intriguing, watchable, a sumptuous feast for the eyes glorious costumes, sets, props and make-up, special effects, especially in the 3-D version, (though a few of my friends preferred the regular version), and the ears, too, with the witty dialogue and the enchanting music by Danny Elfman. Alas, somewhere amidst all the good stuff, a compelling story got lost.
It’s Alice’s story, but the star is really Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp, as if he were his fey uncle who’s escaped from the loony bin. In this version, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a healthy 19-year-old whose family is trying to ensnare her into marrying a rich but cloddish young nobleman who has dull red hair. (You’ll notice that the dashing Mad Hatter is also a red-head but his hair is wild and electric, as if it were the Bride of Frankenstein who styled it.)
Escaping from her terrifying engagement party, she rushes off to the nearby forest and promptly falls and falls and falls down a huge rabbit hole and lands in, well, Wonderland, which is now called Underland. She drinks the potion marked “Drink Me,” becomes a mini-me version of herself (necessitating some interesting costume changes) and starts on her journey.
She is convinced she is merely having a dream, an updated version of a dream that haunted her childhood when her wonderful, visionary father was alive. So she thinks she can control what happens. Being a feisty young thing, Alice sometimes can control things, but like reality, sometimes she can’t–a see-saw in perception that is always pretty interesting. The White Rabbit, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat and the hashish-puffing Blue Caterpillar, voiced like a seductive reptile by Alan Rickman. Finally to the tea party where Alice meets the Mad Hatter who hides her in a teapot to keep her safe from the forces of the lanky Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), who gets the award as the most boring knight in cinema history.
Off to the Disney castle of the Red Queen, played as if she were a gleefully demonic Queen Elizabeth I by tiny Helena Bonham Carter (who in real life is Tim Burton’s wife.). She does all the wonderful things like use flamingos as croquet sticks and pigs as footstools and is always yelling “Off with their heads.” But she’s not as passionate nor as threatening as a wicked queen should be, in fact, she ends up being almost pathetic.
Off to another Disney castle, this time of the White Queen, played as a deliciously daffy Ice Queen by Anne Hathaway. The highlight of the movie for me was the White Queen making a potion for Alice, mixing all kinds of disgusting ingredients in the beaker, smiling benignly with each repulsive item, and then adding the final magical touch by spitting in it. All Asheville witches should see Alice to learn how to make
All kinds of stuff happens. All kinds of previous Tim Burton movies are recalled. Everybody likes their costumes and their sets and their special effects. There’s some of the typical gruesome Burton touches, such as when Alice is walking across the moat to the Red Queen’s castle on the upturned heads of the queen’s most recent decapitations. And wondering whether the Mad Hatter is coming onto Alice and if Alice has a secret thing for him was pretty captivating. But the whole story fell flat. No one in this goofy place seems to be having any fun, not even when they were being wicked.
Burton fans will enjoy all the director’s famous quirky touches. Everybody else will enjoy the film, but probably not remember much of it afterwards. A short, watchable experience–and there’s nothing wrong with that–especially when you know upfront that’s what it will be.