I headed off to Wonderland exceptionally curious about what I would find. As previously stated, I’m quite a fan of most Burton-Depp collaborations, but the critical reception made me wonder. (Ha ha, get it? Okay, that was lame. The Oscars decreased my brain function by about 28%. I apologize.) Whereas most films seem to achieve a critical consensus, save for a few random outliers, the reviews for Alice were rather polarizing: It was either “wonderful” or “a total mess.”
And in my opinion? It’s, well…both. Almost wonderful. Kind of a mess.
Let’s be honest: the Alice in Wonderland stories aren’t exactly logical. They are wildly fantastic, and the basic story could be summarized as, “Young girl wanders aimlessly through bizarre hallucination.” So, yes, it’s a mess – by design. I can’t fault the filmmakers for repackaging the story is as a sequel so that they could recreate the characters and construct something that resembles a plot.
And the (new-ish) plot is entertaining enough, although the film admittedly becomes Alice in Narnia towards the end. The graphics are, of course, spectacular; by all means, see this in 3D. But the real joy of Burton’s Alice (and each preceding version) is the outlandish characters – and those don’t disappoint.
Helena Bonham Carter – who will inevitably play Sarah Palin in my dream Burton/Depp Going Rogue adaptation – makes a hilariously wicked queen, and Anne Hathaway is suitably Cinderella-esque as her counterpoint. Mia Wasikowska is a fine Alice – a touch boring, but then she’s basically the film’s straight wo/man – and the voice actors are all quite good (official b-roll position: Alan Rickman should be in every movie). And Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is completely insane, in the best way. He occasionally slips from his lispy-British accent into a Scottish brogue, which I think is meant to represent the disconnect between, um…okay, I have no idea why. I sort of envision Johnny (I’m going to pretend we’re on a first-name basis, because we are in my head) turning thoughtfully to Burton halfway through shooting and saying, “You know, I’ve never done a Scottish accent before…” and Burton shrugging and replying, “Sure, what the hell. The Hatter’s nuts anyway.”
So yes, I liked the film. But here’s my one caveat, and it’s a big one: Alice just doesn’t have the emotional core of some of my favorite Burton films. Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish leave me in tatters, even after several viewings; but even his more upbeat movies (say, Beetlejuice) have a pinch more heart. Alice doesn’t have quite the same – to quote the Mad Hatter – “muchness.”
But Alice in Wonderland is worth seeing – or, more appropriately, experiencing. Let the weirdness wash over you and you’ll be fine. It’s not quite wonderful. But it’s close.
As the person sitting next to you while watching this film, I must say that I completely agree with this analysis – it was fun and cool, but no emotional connection was made. Great review!