Let history handle the business of judging Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland against the other attempts. A more pressing question is whether Burton’s film will satisfy fans of his earlier work.
Look at little Eddie Scissorhands, all grown up: Johnny Depp plays The Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s CG-heavy take on the timeworn classic, Alice in Wonderland.
There had been a prevailing hope that Burton’s taste for such inherently gothic somber beauties as Johnny Depp (The Mad Hatter) and Helena Bonham Carter (The Red Queen), the director’s main squeeze, would carry the day. And it should be said that while at times all the CG clutter nearly does Depp in, Burton also has to harnesses its absurdity to bring out the best of Bonham Carter’s weirdly disproportionate style of performance; hence the hilarity of a shrill, huffy Red Queen with a head way too big for her body.
But before Alice (Mia Wasikowska) goes home to tell all those corseted pop-up-book aristocrats what to do with their arranged marriage, and sails westward on the winds of Avril Lavigne, she must first go on a formulaic quest to tame the Bandersnatch, slay the Jabberwock and save the computer-generated day. It’s dispiriting to see Burton, the wayward Disney employee, dragged back into the fold by the platitudes of Lion King and Beauty and the Beast scribe Linda Woolverton, here apparently a dutiful company woman going through the motions of dramatizing feminist self-empowerment.
But what of Burton the visualist, so keen on illustrator John Tenniel’s essential contributions to Lewis Carroll’s books? “If you go back to Tenniel,” Burton said in one interview, “so much of his work is what stays in your mind about Alice and about Wonderland. Alice and the characters have been done so many times and in so many ways, but Tenniel’s art really lasts there in your memory.”
Absolutely. And, as the writer Neal Pollack observed on Twitter during the last blitz of promo posters, “It seems that Tim Burton has turned Alice In Wonderland into a story about a 3D gay clown.” That would be Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, the Bozo-haired, chartreuse-eyed oddity seen grinning in the poster but just as often fretting in the movie.
In the case of the Red Queen’s hench-freak, Crispin Glover’s Knave of Hearts, the actor’s own weirdness and the movie’s seem to render each other inert. The White Queen, Red’s rival sister, is a fey, pallid Anne Hathaway. Unencumbered by effects, she works in the community-theater mode of, “I don’t really understand my motivation but the director said to do this.”
More convincingly, there is the hookah-puffing caterpillar played by Alan Rickman. Maybe that’s all we really need now for a Burton triumph.