The cast list of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland reads like a who’s-who of quirky talent, which left me salivating as I imagined the smorgasbord of a film containing Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Stephen Fry, Anne Hathaway and Alan Rickman. The inevitable Alice hype only added to my excitement as I flipped through magazine after magazine with interviews, pictures and numerous Wonderland-themed fashion shoots. I even dressed in blue for the occasion and sat down in the seat clutching my 3D glasses in anticipation.
What I got was a big fat flop. A big, expensive, CGI flop. And let me tell you, a flop is even less impressive when it flops in 3D.
The basic premise is that Alice, as a surprisingly baby-voiced 19-year old, returns to Wonderland (or ‘Underland’ as Burton would have it) to defeat the Jabberwocky and return the White Queen (rather creepily played by Anne Hathaway) to power. The tyrannical Red Queen (or Queen of Hearts for the Carroll purists) is played to all its comic potential by Bonham-Carter, her CGI forehead and mood-swings evoking a grotesque caricature of Elizabeth I, complete with a high-pitched “Off with his head!”
Even as a proud devotee of the 1951 animated Disney version, I was looking forward to seeing Burton’s twist on the basic plot of Alice, which is just a blonde girl wandering around her dream world meeting various weird and wonderful, and possibly drug-addicted characters. Watching Alice in Wonderland however, I felt like I was watching a pastiche of all fantasy stories ever. Warring siblings? Check. Magical weapon? Check. Castles? Check, with both the White and Red Queen’s abodes looking suspiciously similar to the famous Cinderella Castle seen in all Disney credits. Not to mention the fact that Alice takes practically the whole film to realise she must step up and become the White Queen’s champion, despite the entire audience knowing this fact not even 15 minutes in.
Which brings me on nicely to my main problem with this film. Alice herself, played by newcomer Mia Wasikowska, is annoying. I don’t know whether it was just the atrocious script she was working with or if all those blonde curls were poking her in the eye, but throughout the film, Alice was sullen, stubborn and entirely unimpressed with any of the wonders presented to her. At the end, when Alice is pouting her way through a goodbye speech with the Hatter, her wooden and extremely unconvincing reason for leaving is “There are questions I have to answer. And things I’m late for doing”. You could practically feel the entire audience cringe inside.
The rest of the cast put in good performances considering the terrible dialogue and the fact that they were acting to green screens. Appearance was the film’s saving grace. Burton’s by-now trademark twisted and dark fairytale visions were perfectly at home in the setting of Wonderland, the 3D aspect adding an extra depth to Alice’s trippy imagination.
As I come to the end of this review I hear the Johnny Depp fangirls protesting that I haven’t mentioned him yet. And yes, as the Mad Hatter Depp was excellent as always. Yawn.
Originally published on The Yorker 8th March 2010