I’m a big Tim Burton fan and I also tend to like his casting of Johnny Depp. But I’m no fanboy: I found Tim Burton’s take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be worse than the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The first thing I have to get off my chest and the thought that was pervasive in my mind nearly to the point of preventing my enjoyment of the movie is that this movie should really have been titled Return to Wonderland. If you’re into movies, you probably already knew this, and so did I. But I can imagine lots of people who just see a commercial or see the name and think it’ll be a live action version of the old Disney movie. (It doesn’t help that Disney is behind this version as well) So, in this version, we have an adult Alice about who runs away from her marriage proposal and into the rabbit hole.
I never read the original Lewis Caroll Alice books. Like most people of my generation, and the one before it, when I think of Alice in Wonderland I think of the 1951 Disney film. While watching Tim Burton’s film, I was constantly comparing it to the movie I knew. I think what I came away with as the biggest difference is the focus of the movies. The 1951 animated movie is mostly about exploration. What is this Wonderland? What does it look like and how does it work? We see dozens of characters streaking by, but only the Chesire Cat appears to have any substance. Even Alice’s personality is mostly given secondary importance. Tim Burton’s film, on the contrary, is mostly about the characters. In fact, I feel as though Alice only ends up in about four places, including the scene of the final confrontation. In the original Disney movie we only see the Mat Hatter at his tea party. In Tim Burton’s movie, he becomes one of the main characters. We learn of a time where he was perhaps not so mad. Throughout the movie he helps to inspire Alice. We also get to see a bit more of the Red Queen than in the animated film. We also truly see the growth of Alice as a character. From the beginning of the animated film to the end, she remains a cry-baby who continues to shun her own good advice. In Tim Burton’s movie she grows more and more assertive. This makes it slightly predictable, but this archetype is nearly always predictable – a challenge in a dream world (or some other such device) provides a character with growth they can use back in the real world. So this makes it really hard to compare the two movies, my first instinct. In a way, it’s as though they both took aspects that were present in Lewis Caroll’s books and emphasized that side while neglecting the other. While I never read the Alice books, I’m pretty sure I have read that part of the point is that Alice’s character matures as the book goes on, but it’s also about exploring the lands Caroll has created.
The rest of this review may contain spoilers, so I’ll say now that I think the movie is good and is probably worth seeing in the movie theaters and definitely worth a rental.
Acting-wise, I think everyone does a good job. Anne Hathaway does a great job as a very quirky White Queen. Her mannerisms are hilarious and unsettling. The movie leaves you with the feeling that, although she is clearly not as evil as the Red Queen, she is not quite all there either. Helena Bonham Carter does a good job as the Red Queen. Her character does a good job of coming across as evil and crazy as in the animation. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is good, although it’s not his best performance ever. The woman who plays Alice also does a very good job.
The movie tries to be cute with constant references to the original film. The Red Queen is playing croquet with a flamingo and a hedgehog. Characters remark that Alice should have remembered the whole eat me/drink me episode to get through the door. The caterpillar does the whole “who are you?” thing. The flowers are there to disparage Alice. But I kept thinking that people who were experiencing Alice in Wonderland for the first time were missing something. In other words, it seemed to consider viewing the 1951 cartoon as a prerequisite. So, to bring the review full circle, I was bothered by the title during the whole movie and it kept me from enjoying it as much as I could have. I thought the movie should have been Return to Wonderland or else Burton should have made the movie about Alice’s first time to Wonderland.
On a side note: Having just seen Terry Gilliam’s Jaberwocky, it was interesting to see, in the same week, another movie featuring the Jaberwocky as the ultimate enemy.
In the end, I think the movie was good, but it has trouble standing alone. Which, I think, makes it slightly worse as a movie. So, where I think I would have given it an 8/10, I’m going to give it a 7/10. It is a good movie and all the acting is great, but it’s just missing a little bit on its own. Definitely see the movie, especially if you’re a fan of Burton, but it’s not his best.