What goes around, comes around.
Tim Burton spent some of his early career in the concept art department at a little place called Disney Studios. That bit of trivia should dispel the notion that the House of Mouse only begets cookie-cutter filmmakers.
Right after that stint he sparked off on a new career as one of Hollywood’s most inventive low budget directors and visual auteurs. His style became as recognizable as Terry Gilliam’s but with a much darker sense of humour. Early films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands were fascinating both in subject matter and presentation.
Fast-forward 25 years and now he has become about as bland as Michael Bay, minus the explosions. Instead of creative content control, he has just opened up all the cans of paint and started throwing around colours like a kid putting handprints on a wall. They’re fun to make but everybody can do it and it doesn’t mean much in the end. Because of this, any hack director worth his salt could easily have made Alice in Wonderland.
Not that there’s anything wrong with this adapted version from Disney Studios, although it doesn’t tell the original Lewis Carroll tale. Alice (Mia Wasikowska, looking much like Gwyneth Paltrow) is now 19 but suffers recurrent nightmares about falling down a hole and meeting a rabbit.
Everyone keeps telling her what to do but, because she’s an independent and freethinking young woman, she only does what she wants. That means when she sees a white rabbit in a waistcoat wandering around the bushes of what is supposed to be her engagement party, she ignores the revellers and follows the curious hopper down a hole, falling and falling as she goes.
Once at the bottom of an extended plunge, she finds herself in a strange world unlike anything she’s seen before … or has she? Naturally she meets the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and the Tweedles (both Dum and Dee) but there is much debate as to whether she is the authentic Alice who was there before as a child. Considering Alice herself does not remember (except for the dreams), it’s a lively debate.
The thing is, there is a prophesy of some kind that tells how Alice will return to slay the Jabberwocky with the Vorpal Sword on Frabjous Day. Is everyone enjoying Carroll’s nonsensical language and characters?
I really appreciated how this wasn’t the traditional telling of the story but I must admit that I was struck by how much it followed the path of Steven Spielberg’s Hook regarding the adult life of Peter Pan (again a revered children’s story by a British author). This whole scenario gets ‘curiouser and curiouser’ and, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely happy with the outcome. I love nonsense but a lot of this movie just didn’t make any sense. It’s like a topsy-turvy world has been turned upside down. Burton appears to have sold out his stylistic vision.
Most of that last statement stems from how much he relied on computer-generated special effects to create characters and scenes. That being said, there is no denying Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp’s flair for characterizations. Depp could portray an automated voice machine and make it entrancing. One day the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will recognize his work, probably at the same time Tim Burton achieves some kind of lifetime award.
While this is an interesting cinematic experience that certainly many families will enjoy, it doesn’t mean it’s a great show. Putting two hours of makeup and CG on screen does not a story make. This is a Disney story with nothing substantial to justify it. Honestly, there’s very little that is interesting going on, unless you only care about what hits your retina. The over-the-top design did nothing for me. I’m a strong proponent of the return to the more palatable low-key, low-tech visuals.
Regardless, it’s sure to be popular if not because of the look then at least because of the marketing.
Alice in Wonderland
Directed by: Tim Burton<br />Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, and Anne Hathaway, plus the voices of Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Tim Pigott-Smith, Michael Gough, Imelda Staunton and Christopher Lee<br />Now playing at: Grandin Theatres, North Edmonton Cineplex, and Scotiabank Theatre<br />Rated: PG<br />Stars: 3.5