Can anyone remember the last time Tim Burton directed a decent film? I sure as hell don’t. The last film I’ve enjoyed of his is also, in my opinion, his best one: Ed Wood. Since then (1994), Burton has put out one abominable mess after another. And yet, I continue to watch his films hoping for the Tim Burton comeback I have been awaiting all these years. Unfortunately, Alice in Wonderland is the latest victim of Burton’s trainwreck career. Its ugly looking, boring, unoriginal, and lacks heart. In short, Alice in Wonderland is something not even I ever imagined Burton could possibly screw up.

In case you’ve been living in a cave for the past year and have managed to avoid Disney’s barrage of marketing, Alice in Wonderland is the latest version of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Unlike previous cinematic and television translations, however, Burton’s take is a sort of sequel to Carroll’s story. The film takes place many years after Alice’s original adventure in Wonderland. Now grown up and about to get married, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) once again stumbles upon and falls through the rabbit hole. Alice discovers that Wonderland is not the land she visited as a young girl. The Queen of Hearts/Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over Wonderland and rules it with an iron fist (or heart I should say). The creatures of Wonderland live in fear of the Red Queen and her deadly Jabberwocky, a huge dragon voiced by Christopher Lee. Alice reacquaints herself with all the classic Wonderland characters such as the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

I really wanted this film to work. Like another failed Burton project, 1999’s Sleepy Hollow, I felt Alice in Wonderland was a perfect vehicle for Burton’s dark fantastical vision. I was expecting an epic story that plays upon and expands the Carroll storyline. Instead, Linda Woolverton’s screenplay retreads upon all too-familiar narrative devices and gives us something totally unoriginal, unimaginative, and downright boring. Burton stated in an interview that he always felt the original story to be a series of events rather than a story and he wanted to present a story with his film. Woolverton must not have gotten the memo because this film is precisely that: a series of poorly connected events that plod along from one to the other at an excruciatingly slow pace.

From the beginning of Alice’s reentry into Wonderland we learn of the prophecy that Alice will face off against the Jabberwocky. We also discover that the Queen of Hearts/Red Queen rules Wonderland and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), her sister, opposes her. Before the 1st Act is over we basically know that Act 3 will involve the White Queen facing off against the Red Queen and Alice battling the Jabberwocky. Given the audience’s awareness of this inevitable culmination of events, the story winks and teases the audience as to whether or not Alice will take on the savior role and rid Wonderland of the Jabberwocky. For the entire film, characters accuse Alice of not being the “real” Alice and Alice herself being unsure of whether she can take on the Jabberwocky. When its SO OBVIOUS that Alice will battle the dragon, spending so much time in trying to make the audience think otherwise is futile and annoying. The filmmakers should either have come up with a completely different sub-plot (i.e. preparing Alice to fight the dragon) or have done a better job in keeping the audience from learning what the 3rd Act would be about.

Another major problem with Alice in Wonderland is its failure in putting together a cohesive storyline. We move from one event to another in such a disjointed manner that I felt as confused and bewildered as Wonderland’s mentally insane inhabitants. Perhaps Tim Burton intended the audience to feel as disoriented as Alice so we can better identify with her situation. Moreover, some scenes work beautifully (i.e. almost anything with the Red Queen) whereas others badly fall apart (i.e. the tea party and the introduction of the Mad Hatter). As a result, the film is poorly paced and for a fantasy/adventure film like this, I should not have been counting down to the merciful end of the movie.

Lets talk about the characters. Easily the best character in the entire film is the Red Queen. Alice in Wonderland should have simply been only about her. Helena Bonham Carter completely inhabits the character and turns it into her own. She is neurotic, hot-tempered, dry humored, and a total bitch. I absolutely loved her character and I wanted to see more of her (NOTE: I assure you, there is a lot of Red Queen in this movie and thankfully so). Also noteworthy is her lover/head of guard, the Knave of Hearts (Crispen Glover). If you are familiar with Crispen Glover, then you know what a strange person this man is (if you don’t, then make sure you search for his name and David Letterman on YouTube and watch him get kicked off the show). Every film Glover has been in he has played a weird, but HIGHLY and ADDICTIVLEY watchable character. He being in a Tim Burton film is like a match made in heaven and he plays up his part beautifully here.

As for our two main characters, Alice and the Mad Hatter, they were both fine, but they failed to generate the level of interest that I was expecting to see from them, especially from Johnny Depp’s Hatter. Burton stated that he never felt an emotional connection with prior versions of Alice in Wonderland. I assume some of this stems from the lack of warmth for the Alice character as Walt Disney also had the same issue with both the story and the character. Mia Wasikowska does a fine job playing Alice, but she too doesn’t elicit any warm feelings or empathy from the audience (or at least from me). Her character struck me as emotionless and unsurprised by all the fantastical things going on around her. I don’t know whether this should be blamed upon Wasikowska’s level of talent or how the character was written. Regardless, I never cared for Alice during the entire film.

Alice in Wonderland marks Johnny Depp’s 7th collaboration with Tim Burton. Despite Burton’s cold streak for the past decade and a half, Depp has provided the director with his most memorable characters. Here, he plays the Mad Hatter, the craziest of Wonderland’s inhabitants. I did not dislike Depp’s version of the Hatter, but neither was I enthralled by his performance like the way I was with Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, or even Willy Wonka. His character didn’t allow me to get beyond a surface level and because of that, I couldn’t warm up to the character. As a result, a lack of empathy for the Hatter destroyed any connection the audience was intended to have for Alice and the Hatter’s relationship.

One thing I can always rely on when seeing a Tim Burton movie is a wonderfully strange world that can only come from the mind of Burton. Even some of his worst films contain stunning production design that almost excuse the rest of their shortcomings. I wasn’t expecting anything short of awesome for what Burton concocted for Alice in Wonderland. My confidence in Burton’s creation was bolstered by the fact that he hired Production Designer Robert Stromberg (Avatar) to create his world. You can imagine my surprise, then, in how disappointed I was by the look of the movie. This was not Wonderland. It was a depressing, dreary wasteland that contained barely a hint of the colorful, cheerful world Disney had created. Ok, I know that the Red Queen rules Wonderland and Burton wanted to reflect her evil reign by making Wonderland look dark. I also know that its a Burton signature to have gothic-looking imagery. Regardless, I think Wonderland should have remained vibrant and cheerful, not colorless and morose. This should have been a world you wouldn’t want to leave. I mean shit, even when the sun was out and the skies were blue it looked depressing.

At the very least, when a Tim Burton movie utterly fails in practically every respect, you can always turn to the always reliable Danny Elfman to provide a good score, which he does here. The music is classic Elfman that reminded me a bit of his work on Edward Scissorhands. Its been awhile since I’ve wanted to pick up an Elfman score and this is one I look forward to getting.

So there you have it. Alice in Wonderland may not be Burton’s worst film (that honor goes to Sweeney Todd), but it certainly failed in most respects to be anything but a bore. By the way, if you go out and see this, please shoot me an email if you also had trouble comprehending what the characters were saying. My friend and I both had problems understanding what the hell the characters were saying (there was no problem with the volume). All the characters have British accents, which is fine. However, everyone, especially Johnny Depp, seemed to be mumbling their lines. Anyway, I can probably go on and on about how disappointed I was in Alice in Wonderland. This was a film I was quite looking forward to and to be presented with such a half-assed spectacle has made me finally reevaluate Burton’s talents.

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