Saturday, 6 March 2010

[312] Alice in Wonderland (2010) Review

Tim Burton is, probably more than any other filmmaker, the director against whose work I can shape my life. Films like Batman (which I wasn't allowed to see, being 3, but fully comprehended), and Edward Scissorhands (which I did see, on video, aged 5), or the teenage re-discoveries of Beetlejuice, Batman Returns and, most importantly, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Over the last decade, each new Burton film was an event.

Alice in Wonderland is the first film of his that I have reviewed.

Throughout Disney's new, 3D re-imagining of Alice In Wonderland, the odd girl with the blonde hair - now 19, finding herself back in Wonderland to escape the stuffiness of Victorian society - is asked her name by bizarre characters and CGI creations. Their response is uniform: 'The Alice?' croons the Cheshire Cat, voiced by a most decadent, flirtatious Stephen Fry. However, there seems to be a more puzzling question, concerning the film's director: is this the Tim Burton?

No, this must be a different Tim Burton. Sure, there are freaks and kooks - is there an intellectual property more bursting with them? - but while they are twisted to fit a suitably dark take on Wonderland, the narrative is derivative and wafer-thin, with what intriguing ideas that Burton and screenwriter Linda Woolverton bring to the table being trimmed into non-existence by a vacuum-sealed structure.

It is also awkwardly conceived. It is a valid idea to inject Carroll's Alice books, which were always more about cheeky exercises in absurdity and logic than rounded storytelling, with emotional anchors and a workable narrative through line. However, in practice, the film starts to lose both its humour and its distinctiveness; before long, we are treated to Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter, gap-toothed and Bowie-eyed, walking among scorched trees as he intones his way through the sublime nonsense-poem Jabberwocky with utter, Scottish-accented sincerity.

So, Burton has brought a lot of darkness to Wonderland, but this isn't the grotesque drama-comedy seen in his late 80s and early 90s output (
Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns). Instead, Alice In Wonderland is an overwrought fantasy epic, squaring off against Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings as opposed to carving out its own quirky corner of the imagination.

Read the full article here.

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