DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Alice in Wonderland

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland (2010) dir. Tim Burton
Starring; Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover


By Alan Bacchus

I have a pretty good intuition about the movies I watch and I certainly had expectations about Alice in Wonderland after seeing the trailer earlier in the year. And so, despite the presence of Tim Burton on this picture, I decided not to see it. Then the movie made mondo bucks at the box offfice, was a big hit and with some decent reviews, and good recommendations from some people I know.

And so on Blu-Ray I just had to check it out – completely forgetting what my initial reservations were. And yes, low and behold, the film fit neatly into my very low expectations.


Alice in Wonderland is a treasured book so ingrained in our collective pop culture consciousness. Hell, I even played the King of Hearts in my grade four school play. But Tim Burton’s treatment of the story is one of the laziest, uninspired adaptations of classic literature I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately this has mostly to do with the technical aspects of the film, which I hate to single out over the story, but is indeed the cause of my displeasure.

Despite Burton’s unique artistic gifts, he chose to put Wonderland on a big circular green screen with only a handful of real people to populate this largely computer generated world. Sure, computer graphics are 20 years old now, and part of the regular vocabulary of cinema, but when overused with such veracity we lose all sense of depth, texture and thus ‘wonder’ of Wonderland. In fact, I was reading an interview with Christopher Nolan about the use of CG, and his opinion sums my thoughts up perfectly, "..however sophisticated a process of animation is, the audience can always, on some level, tell the difference between something that has been photographed and something that has been animated by an artist.”

Burton’s story diverges from Lewis Carroll’s original book slightly, which is ok. In this version Alice is 20 years old, living in a stuffy upper class British estate and promised to marry a foppish boob. After rejecting his proposal she runs off to follow a peculiar march hare dressed in a waist coat, only to fall into the now-famous rabbit hole which takes her to Wonderland – a colourful, but claustrophobic and flaccid green screen Wonderland.

She’s identified as not the right Alice, as the creatures that inhabit this world seem to expect another girl named Alice who has been there before. The evil Queen of Hearts is expecting this Alice, who is prophesized to defeat her gargantuan beast the Jabberwocky and usurp her authority over the land. Thus she is her bitter enemy. Alice eventually teams up with the Mad Hatter and the White Queen to defeat the Red Queen and fulfil her destiny as saviour of Wonderland.

In addition to laziness of using almost exclusively computer generated character, backdrops, props, costume etc, Burton’s designs feel like another recycling of his other films – a pasty-skinned blondie as his leading lady, big eyed monsters, with big mouths full of sharp pointy teeth, ornate gothic looking trees with branches snake around themselves etc etc.

And of course without the visible texture of either stop motion clay figures as in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ or just plain old tangible objects we never feel like Alice’s world is real, nor a tangible fantasy. Instead it all feels like a forgettable cartoon, like Shrek or Madagascar. This is what I thought this picture would feel like after seeing the trailer, and sadly I was right.

‘Alice in Wonderland’ is available Blu-Ray from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment


M. Carter @ the Movies said...

I believe the reasons you were disappointed were pretty similar to the reasons I was disappointed. My hopes for "Alice in Wonderland" were sky high because a) it's Tim Burton and b) it's Johnny Depp, and those two are aces together. But Burton's film didn't do justice to the classic or, really, best the Disney film in any particular way. It's a visual stunner, but the characters, for the most part, fell flat. Or, rather, the best characters -- Stephen Fry's Cheshire Cat, Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen, Anne Hathaway's White Queen -- got too little screentime while the less interesting/more grating characters hogged the screen.

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks M for your comment. For me, the visuals were dull - the reliance on the computer generated world felt lifeless.