Alice in Wonderland

Oh, what to do with poor Alice? This was the question swimming through my mind as I sauntered out of the theater last Friday. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit right now that Burton’s Gothic stylings often strike a chord with me. Sweeney Todd was a dream come true. Early images from Alice revealed brilliant visual re-interpretations of classic characters such as the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen. From an aesthetic standpoint, Alice constitutes a sumptuous feast. Yet our parents used to warn us that snacks before dinner could ruin our appetites, and the same lesson applies here. The ad campaign promoting the movie has been so vicious and aggressive in distributing images from the movie that I nearly felt as though I’d seen it before even stepping into the theater. Full-screen pop-up, trailers, and the like ate away at my ability to enjoy the movie, itself…despite my best efforts to avoid them.

What, then, can be said of the story? Burton was careful to avoid explicitly raising the ire of Alice fans by telling a story that didn’t attempt to follow the original books. Noble though the goal may have been, the result left me cold and ambivalent. As Burton told his tale, I struggled to make any connection between his Alice and the one from my recollection. One by one, familiar characters are paraded out for all to see, but this never coalesces into a greater whole. The audience needs a reason to care about Alice’s struggle in Wonderland, but Burton shows very little of the realm, itself. In truth, the movie probably needed another ten minutes to better establish his vision. Instead, the entire affair takes a turn for the generic. Strangely enough, the movie seems to take a number of cues from the recent Narnia movies.

Alice plays out like a morality tale, and it does a poor job of clothing its core ethic. At every turn, the movie invests time in browbeating the audience when it should be further developing the characters in this strange world. Worse, the denouement that should act as a final proof of the core feels flimsy, rushed and entirely inadequate.

The writing isn’t all bad; there are some witty one-liners and a couple of particularly amusing characters. Thankfully, the best of the script is used to full effect by a stacked cast of actors and voice actors. Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman are perfectly cast; Johnny Depp and Helen Bonham-Carter are their usual talented selves…even if Depp’s performance might feel a tad familiar; and Crispin Glover, who delivers the best line in the movie, is a welcome addition whenever he pops up.

I can say little about the score, and that’s a rarity for me. Some directors and composers seem more attached than most married couples. Perhaps the best example is Burton and Elfman. I don’t really remember much about the score, so I assume that it was typical but unremarkable Elfman.

Is Alice worth your time in a theater? That depends…were you more successful than I in avoiding the reprehensible quantity of advertising for the movie? If so, then you’ve got a visually dazzling 100 minutes ahead of you. Just don’t expect too much; Burton’s Wonderland is a tad low on the wonder.

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