Film review: Burton has lost his muchness

by Chelsea Reil, News Staff

The blond little Alice America knows and loves, as seen in Disney’s 1951 cartoon version, is definitely gone. In place of the Disney version is Tim Burton’s newest creation: A loud, garish, busy film that is generally underwhelming.

Not to say that it is bad. On the contrary, Mia Wasikowska’s portrayal of Alice as a smart, confused young woman instead of a stupid young girl is one of the best changes that Burton made from the original Lewis Carroll tale to his newest film. But in a story that is, at heart, nonsensical and fantastical, this version trudges on in a fairly predictable way. Carroll fanatics are probably in an uproar, but following the story is actually quite easy.

Alice returns to Wonderland (called Underland in this version) as a 19-year-old, caught in a battle between the Red Queen (played by a Burton favorite, Helena Bonham Carter) and her sister the White Queen (portrayed by the pretty, but annoying, Anne Hathaway). Alice’s most reliable guide is (God help her) the Mad Hatter, played by another Burton constant, Johnny Depp. Depp is almost unrecognizable in his makeup, but all of his classic insanities are there. It is entertaining to see him on screen, but his performance is oddly familiar, like he is recycling old characters. We see some gentleness of Edward Scissorhands, a bit of a creepy vibe of Willy Wonka, and a crazy streak of Sweeney Todd. Depp’s Hatter is just like the film: pleasantly whimsical, but disappointing. The Mad Hatter has a much larger part than in the original, which seems indulgent, as if this movie is riding on Depp’s performance.

A series of chases, setbacks and alliances leads to a battle of good versus evil that is so quintessentially Disney that it feels forced. The build up leads the audience to believe that they would be experiencing a fight scene to end all fight scenes, something reminiscent of “The Lord of the Rings,” but unfortunately, it wasn’t there. The battle was fairly short, almost as if Burton didn’t want to include it. These sort of scenes are not his forte and it shows.

There are bright spots in the film, however. Carter’s portrayal of the Red Queen as a petulant child (“I need a pig here!”) is spot on. She steals the show every time she’s onscreen. Her shrill voice as she screams “Off with his head!” is so satisfying it brings the audience back to why they love this story in the first place. But they also see a different side of her; she feels it is her right to rule, is confused by her sister’s charm, and is madly in love with the Knave of Hearts, played by Crispin Glover. The Blue Caterpillar, voiced by Alan Rickman (Snape in the “Harry Potter” series), is another excellent character. Unfortunately, he has such a small role that he can’t be fully appreciated.

The fact that this film is in 3-D may be exciting for kids, but this isn’t really a kids movie. Tim Burton fans are people who grew up on old Batman movies and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and are now in their 20s or older. Movie-goers just experienced “Avatar,” which uses 3-D in a revolutionary way. The fact that Burton chose to shoot in 2-D and then convert the film using the old method makes it feel like the viewer’s eyes aren’t seeing all that they could be.

All in all, this is a periodically enjoyable film that has Burton qualities but does not feel like a true Burton film. What is missing most of all is the nonsense – the capsizing of logic and reason that Carroll included in every line of the original story. Nobody expects a straight adaptation from Burton, but any version of “Alice” must include the feeling of nonsense, if nothing else.