Before I begin my quick review of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, here’s a quick disclaimer: I am a big fan of just about any Tim Burton has ever worked on. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite movies of all time, with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Edward Scissorhands following not too far behind.
Needless to say, I was excited to see one of my favorite Disney animated stories recreated as seen in the mind of Tim Burton.
Beyond the rather slow start of the film, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland offers a truly immersive journey through a familiar, yet totally unfamiliar world, meeting characters along the way that you think you know very well but you soon realize that you’ve only known one side of their complex personalities for all these years.
The story is based around a 19-year-old Alice returning to Wonderland (or is it Underland?), though still believing her first visit there was just a dream. Everything you know about Alice in Wonderland is present, but turned upside down in a way only Burton can sufficiently justify.
Burton has a way of taking a story, new or old, and spinning it in his own festively macabre style. But in the case of Alice in Wonderland, I found Burton’s unique style was occasionally lost in scene after scene filled with far too many computer generated set pieces and characters. Performances in this film are often muffled behind layers of computer enhancement.
The exceptions, however, lie in the leading roles of Alice (Mia Wasikowska) and the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), both of whom carry this film. In Disney’s well-known animated version of Alice in Wonderland, Alice is a “curious” young girl who seems to stumble through scenes until the film concludes. Likewise, Disney’s Mad Hatter is a completely one-dimensional character who is simply mad with no rhyme or reason behind his actions. While I am a big fan of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, I always found it frustrating that the Mad Hatter was such an obnoxious character. In the case of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, I simply couldn’t get enough of him. Depp portrays a sufficiently deep character that actually has motivation behind his madness – and may not actually be entirely mad at all. (Even if he is, the film strongly suggests that being mad is often a good thing.)
But the film is called “Alice in Wonderland” for a reason. Wasikowska’s performance as Alice walks the line between that young “curious” girl we’ve always known Alice to be and a strong, grown-up girl who’s prepared to start making important life choices for herself. Her internal struggles with what she believes is a dream and the reality of the outside world persist throughout the film and we as viewers doubt the reality of what we’re seeing along with her. The movie completely follows Alice through her journeys, very rarely stepping away from her character. We generally only see what she sees and thus feel what she feels as we explore the world of wacky characters.
The climax and resolution of the film is surprising and unlike any other version of “Alice in Wonderland” you’ve seen. It’s more akin to Sleeping Beauty than Alice.
In the end, other than an overuse of computer-generated imagery and a lackluster Danny Elfman score, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland succeeds in immersing viewers in a strange world much in the same way that Disney’s famous animated version of the story has, but executed in a much more mature and intriguing manner.
Rating: I give Alice in Wonderland an 8.5 out of 10.