The 1951 animated version of Alice’s story is far from the top of my list of favorite Disney films from my childhood, but that does not keep me from being overly disappointed in the additional trip down the rabbit hole in this year’s Alice in Wonderland.
13 years following young Alice’s nightmare riddled nights of a mysterious world with crazy talking creatures, Alice finds herself all grown up and in the midst of an engagement party celebrating the proposal that has yet to occur. When the question is finally popped Alice decides to avoid responding and exercise her affinity for chasing clothed rabbits down really deep holes. When she eventually makes it into Wonderland a welcoming party of a few familiar faces greets her and we learn that the run in with the rabbit in the real world was a planned occurrence on his part. Apparently since the last time Alice was there things have taken a turn for the worse and the inhabitants have been searching for the right Alice to fulfill the prophesy of bringing an end to the Red Queen’s reign of terror. Unfortunately for them Alice is less that enthusiastic about filling those big shoes.
The design work used to create Wonderland is definitely the highlight of the film for me, with a lot of beautifully constructed costumes and amazing CGI environments and creatures (including the Cheshire Cat, Jabberwocky, and both the red and white armies) filling out the world. Unfortunately the story is not one to match the scale of the world. The majority of the film is actually a revisiting of places Alice came across in the animated film, such as the room with the “drink me” bottle to enter Wonderland and the tea party with the Mad Hatter. Though this set up plays into a memory sequence later in the film, it just seems like a bunch of uninspired allusions to the prior film as they play out on the screen. What’s worse is that the time taken going through these familiar scenes overshadows Alice’s mission in this film, which fails to build as the film progresses. Instead she just spends the majority of the film going through the motions as she prattles on about wanting to wake up from this dream with a chorus of “but you are our champion!” being spouted from the citizens of Wonderland, who are just hoping she will decide to slay the Red Queen’s dragon for them no matter how unenthusiastic she seems about the whole idea. Once the ending finally does comes around it just seems rushed and tacked on, and continues to get worse as the credits get closer.
The characters of the film go the same way as the story, with acting that could have been much better from the talent collected. Mia Wasikowska could have been much stronger as Alice instead of just sticking to her “I don’t want to be here” range of expressions and line readings, but I do feel like she has the potential to do much better with a stronger role. Anne Hathaway is fine as the White Queen, amusingly playing up the upper crustiness in how she carries herself (which you will either find annoying or amusing. I fell into the latter group, but I love Hathaway). The actor who does the best in their role is Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, who shines in the moments when she is given more to do than just shout “off with their heads!” Unfortunately, Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is actually a weaker part of the film. For starters, his character is far too difficult to understand. He may be insane and should therefore be anything but cut and dry, but usually there is some mind to the madness. Here it just seems as if Depp was given so much freedom with his interpretation of the character that he never actually finds it. Furthermore, the spotlight he is given is just not warranted in the end because it pulls focus from Alice, who I am assuming this film is actually supposed to be about. I mean, her name is in the title and everything…
On the whole I am a big fan of Tim Burton’s films, but unfortunately Alice in Wonderland is not something I can add to the list of his movies that I love. Overall the design elements may create a really pretty world, but the substance just isn’t there. And though it may have some of the craziness of the 1951 animated film, it fails to come together in its attempt to become something more than just a trip through madness.
Final Grade: D