Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland- A Shameless and Horrid Re-envisioning of the Classic Tales of Imagination

Lewis Carroll was a marvelous writer and there is no doubt that he had an ability to create grand imagery, perfect allegory, and an intriguing wondrous literary experience. But don’t go looking for any grand allegorical referencing in Burton’s ridiculous attempt at re-envisioning the classic tales of “Alice in Wonderland,” because all of it has been replaced with cheap visual tricks, bland repetitive dialogue, and contrite humor that make experiencing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland far from a wonderful experience. When more than a third of the script’s dialogue pertains to arguing whether this is the original Alice from the adventures before one can’t help but get annoyed at how obviously simple this script was to write. Burton’s view of Alice in Wonderland is far from being an accurate adaptation and one might expect this since Burton has already stated in multiple interviews that he had no connection with the original stories. This results in a shameful attempt at perhaps expanding or making a classic work into a mediocre entertainment flick that is typical of the Hollywood corporate manufacturing process. For a director that prides himself on being that strange and independent type contrasting the usual artist Hollywood supports than why does it feel as though this project is completely unoriginal in delivery and feels more like a bastardization of all three Alice in Wonderland pieces? The arrogance of Burton reeks from the screen in a way that recalls his horrid vision of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where spectacle, art design, and Johnny Depp are more important than a tight narrative that is truly wondrous to experience.

When it comes to adaptation it is completely obvious that Burton has no interest in respecting the author’s original intents or narrative structure. Sweeney Todd replaced dark humor with grim elegance while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory focused on Willy Wonka as an eccentric rather than the heightened flaws of the children, which were done in much better fashion in the original adaptation with Gene Wilder. But don’t let that grouping of failed envisioning stop Burton from ruining not only one classic book, but three original pieces in the same fail swoop. Technically this tale is Alice returning to Wonderland (or Underland as it is apparently properly pronounced) similar to Through the Looking Glass, but everything here is drastically different than what is laid out in the books. It’s easy to manipulate your audience into thinking the bland CGI world of Wonderland is actually a great place to be especially if the real world you present is exceptionally bland. Our protagonist Alice is quite the non-corset wearing rebel who is constantly distracted by imaginary visions rather than confronting her forced situations, including marriage to a pristine moron. Escaping the incredibly awkward situation of being proposed to in front of a mass amount of people Alice follows a supposedly imaginary white rabbit with a shirt and tie into his rabbit hole, where Wonderland presents itself in typical special effects fashion. Borrowing from all three books Burton presents his version of Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There while supplanting all of the beautiful allegories (Tea Party, Chess Match, Caterpillar scene) and literary messages. Before one can begin making a classic their own they must first understand it and Burton has chosen not only to respect the original piece but not even bother with it altogether.

So as Alice travels through the expected Wonderland Burton might have concocted we meet the familiar faces from the books along the way. However, Burton expects to make the narrative his own while he leaves your expectations of characters to be the same from the books. None of them from the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen) to the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) are ever flourished out and are merely side show spectacles to the mainstream act of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen. Both are mildly entertaining at points but seem as though they are playing characters they have done before. Everything here isn’t anything new or original. In fact, this Wonderland is the same as every other Wonderland that has been put on the screen, but the others were better in narrative and character, which is drastically lacking in this version. This version of Wonderland is like an acid trip while having an epileptic seizure without any coherency to why the experience is important. As the film puts it, “Alice has lost much of her muchness,” and that is about as self-referential as they get. There is nothing particularly enchanting about this Wonderland, nor is Alice, who is about as tasteless as they come.

Alice in Wonderland could have been Burton’s homage to the wonder of the imagination yet fails to even relate how the impossible can be possible to its story. In the wake of Terry Gilliam’s Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, which successfully references Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, it appears as though Burton has become the standard of Hollywood filmmaking rather than the experimental strange one. The one who used to take leaps away from normality now has an expected form that only works when there is an intriguing main character, such as Edward Scissorhands or Big Fish. But here there isn’t any dedication to neither narrative nor an appealing protagonist, as the final product results in flashy spectacle and simplistic humor that is quite embarrassing. Taking a story that is so marvelously original and full of opportunity and producing such a weak and poor re-envisioning of the incredibly detailed source at hand shows lazy writing and filmmaking from a director who should not only know better but should be held to a higher standard. It’s visually interesting but that can only take you so far. Once the third act comes around in Alice in Wonderland it is truly a wonder how they were able to ruin such potent original material.

When you fail to make the characters your own amidst an adaptation that is not even close to being accurate than the film will ultimately fail to resonate beyond those who are not familiar with the original tales. The truest adaptation to this date of the first book has been Disney’s classic animated version and it is baffling to see Disney produce such a ridiculous and nonsensical continuation of that particular story. Tim Burton used to be a symbol of original and daring filmmaking but this Alice in Wonderland is just more of the same, with cheap opportunities at ridiculous humor and the cliché action scene to end the film in epic fashion. Nothing here is wonderful and this wonderland just isn’t what it could be in the hands of a reasonable and non-egotistical filmmaker who can grasp and accept the original material. When Johnny Depp dances near the end of this film, a scene that reeks of pure star exploitation, it might well have been Depp dancing on Lewis Carroll’s grave because such a reckless and unfounded re-envisioning of his classic tales is disrespectful, especially coming from a director who has yet to make a film that matches that sort of brilliance.

Grade: C-

One Response to “Movie Review: Alice in Wonderland- A Shameless and Horrid Re-envisioning of the Classic Tales of Imagination”
  1. Sowmya says:

    Still it was a gr8 movie 🙂

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