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.