Directed by Tim Burton
I knew something was wrong with this movie from the opening seconds. Why? Because where the hell was my Tim Burton opening credit sequence? Seriously? He probably has the best opening credit sequences of any other filmmaker ever, and all this one says is “Alice in Wonderland”? I can still vividly picture the opening credit sequences to “Batman” and “Beetljuice”. Burton’s credit sequences serve as a gateway into his twisted and ingenious vision of whatever movie he happens to be making at the time. Needless to say, I was not pleased. (I also realize that to many of you, the fact that I am upset about the exclusion of an opening title sequence is ridiculous. But to be honest, I don’t really care. I firmly believe in opening title sequences, Burtonesque or not. I don’t believe in any argument suggesting that they pull you out of a film. Contrary to that, I believe that they lead you in. Okay, that’s enough of that.) So, what was my reaction to the rest of the film? Tepid to say the least.
I’ll get the praise out of the way first. Mia Wasikowska played a charming Alice. She hit all the right notes, looked the part (beautifully, I might add) and was probably the highlight of the film. She’s someone to keep an eye out for. (And I’m beginning to worry that soon I will only find petite, charming, cute, English girls attractive. Between her and Carey Mulligan, I think that my heart is going to leap out of my chest.) Helena Bonham Carter was also fun to watch. Over the top? Occasionally, but this is a Tim Burton film after all, so that’s to be expected. The only time I ever remotely felt any connection to a character in this film was my pity for the Red Queen’s ultimate fate. The casting of Alan Rickman as the voice of the Blue Caterpillar was also a big plus. But that’s simply because Alan Rickman takes everything he’s involved in to the next level. The book ends of the film are handled well. Looking back on it, that seems to be quite a bit done right.
But then we get to Wonderland. (Or “Underland” or whatever they call it in the film.) I’m just not quite sure how comfortable Tim Burton was with directing most of this movie on green screen. (I’m not researching this, but I’m pretty sure it’s the only film he has done with extensive use of this technology.) Once the story finds its way down the rabbit hole, the spark just seems to leave. Burton has said in interviews that he was wary of making this film because the book is nothing more than a series of random encounters between Alice and psychedelic creatures. Working with Linda Woolverton, he supposedly tried to give narrative merit to these encounters. It’s unfortunate that they failed. The idea of Alice having to slay the Jabberwocky is a good starting point, but everything falls apart from there. There is never a sense of urgency or dramatic weight to the film. And the fact that the filmmakers are trying so hard to create these things ends up working against it more than it helps. Which leads me to the weakest part of the entire film (and I never thought I’d say this) Johnny Depp. His character is shoe horned so blatantly into almost every scene that it eventually becomes ridiculous. During the middle portion of the film, Burton effectively drops Alice as his main character and starts focusing on The Hatter. This just isn’t necessary. The film would have been much better served with The Hatter (and Depp) providing a supporting role and adding levity to the proceedings instead of bogging it down with useless character beats.
I sort of feel bad now. I don’t often go to such lengths nitpicking weaknesses in films. If I do so here, it is only because I love Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s work so much that to see them falter is a sad, sad thing for me. Of course, my resentment might also have to do with paying the insane ticket price for a 3-D movie and nearly falling asleep through the experience. Ah well, everyone’s allowed to misstep here and there. Here’s hoping that the next time, they’ll be back on track.