Another film that I grew up with, and one that hasn’t aged well since release, Alice in Wonderland is often pointed to as being void of originality with a shiny, Hot Topic surface. I first saw the film when I was 11 at an IMAX, and the novelty of the situation (I’ve grown up in the country most of my life) made me love the entire experience. However, watching the film on a TV whilst eating oven chips in recent years doesn’t provide quite the same amount of enjoyment. Not a good sign when the film itself is the weak link of the cinematic experience.
Several critics have used this film as an example of Tim Burton becoming an old hack, using his gothic aesthetic for monetary gain whilst putting in very little effort. While I find this an understandable criticism, I am more sympathetic to Burton’s recent work than most; I genuinely like Dark Shadows and think that Big Eyes is one of the most underrated Hollywood films of recent years. I also feel that, had the film been stop motion like Corpse Bride or used practical effects like Beetlejuice many of Tim Burton’s aesthetic choices would have shone, bringing to life some of the darker, stranger elements of Lewis Carroll’s novels.
The biggest issues of the film, for me at least, lie in the adaptive aspects of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and other various Carroll works. By forcing the film to conform to a three-act structure with a clear hero and villain rather than sticking to the nonsense and ambiguity of the books, they make the characters seem shallow and dull. Placing the Mad Hatter in particular into a revenge plot seem very counterintuitive to anyone who has read the original works. Quick disclaimer: I am very much not the sort of person to dismiss a film based on ‘inaccuracy’ to the original – The Shining is one of my all-time favourite films. However, if you’re going to take lines and elements from the book that suggest how chaotic and bizarre Wonderland is, it makes no sense to me to retain them in a plot that involves conflicting monarchies, prophecies and well organised militaries. The performances in the film certainly don’t help it either, Mia Wasikowska delivering maybe the dullest, most unemotional performance I’ve ever seen, and Johnny Depp just being uncomfortable to watch in anything in light of the abuse of his ex-wife.
As much as I don’t completely agree with the criticisms levelled at the movie, I have my own grievances that honestly lead me to personally rate it around a four out of ten despite the nostalgia I have for it. Though to be fair, it does come across well against its sequel, one of the worst films I’ve seen this year out of the 130 odd I’ve watched. If Alice in Wonderland feels oversaturated with shallow characters, Alice Through the Looking Glass gives them nothing to do having used them up. It was also not directed by Burton, and contains many of the problems of the first, again leading me to blame the faults of the original on Disney mandates more than Burton’s creative decisions. Regardless, stick on the first if you’re really bored, and don’t touch the second with a thirty nine and a half foot pole.