I recently saw Tim Burton’s Disney’s Alice in Wonderland trademark adventure, and I only really have one thought, which is
I had a reaction similar to my viewing of Nine, though not as vehement: they took something extraordinary and boundary-smashing and made something mundane. This is not saying it’s a successful product, as it clearly is. But I don’t think it’s a successful film.
The book is full of whimsy and nonsense, so you would think it would be a good fit for Burton. The screenwriter, Linda Woolverton (from both “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”), has created something of a sequel, where Alice is avoiding a marriage proposal and looking for herself in the rabbit hole. We see, in a flashback where the six-year old Alice (who wears lip gloss to bed) complains of a bad dream to her father, that Alice has been dreaming of this world since she was a child. In this version, it’s actually called Underland, and ruled by an evil red queen who is a tyrant, whose sister the White Queen used to rule but has been usurped. All the characters (most from the book – the Rabbit, the Doormouse, Tweedlum and –dee, even the sad addition of a “frumious bandersnatch” – ugh) want the White Queen to be reinstalled, but Alice must save them by slaying the Jabberwocky, and, oh nevermind, I’m too bored to go on. I don’t really care.
And that’s the bottom line. Why not write a new script with characters we’ve never seen before instead of bastardizing two surprising, unexpected great works into one predictable, boring three act girl empowerment story we’ve seen before? It’s could be taken out of “Screenwriting for Dummies”. I see the impulse to make it into a kind of fairy tale with a message, like “Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast”, but the whole point of Alice, it’s enduring fascination, is that it resists those simple messages. It’s confounding and odd – and as interesting to political theorists, historians, and mathematicians as it is to children. This whole shoehorning into a coherent narrative just makes the whole enterprise feel stifled and mundane. Bonham-Carter is enjoyable to watch (probably the best thing in the film), but Hathaway is wasted (though I'm not sure what anyone could have done with that role). Depp is given a script in which the Hatter is aware of his encroaching or encompassing madness, attempting some sense of tragic realization of his situation, but that ends up as embarrassing and unneeded. Besides laying more on the back of the character than he’s designed to handle, they force him to have a truly cringe-inducing dance moment. Curioser and curiouser. Why?
Oh wait, money….that’s right. I keep forgetting. Well at least someone’s laughing all the way to the bank. Sadly, it’s not the audience. Look, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but why not just leave old stuff alone if you can’t respect it for what it is? Or give it a spin that's at least as imaginative and outlandish as the original. This has taken something large, ridiculous, and unruly and tried to make it small, easy, pat and pablum. Not an awful way to spend some time, but not a frabjous day at all.