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Review: Alice in Wonderland

As apparent from the abundance of DrChocolate reviews and the scarcity of my own reviews lately, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the theaters for a movie. I was very excited to finally get back and lose myself in the big screen. Alice in Wonderland was the perfect movie for such an occasion, I’m a huge Tim Burton fan and have followed Johnny Depp since his days on 21 JumpStreet, yet I found myself walking away somewhat unsatisfied.

Tim Burton is at the top of his game in this movie. The costumes and makeup were mindblowingly intricate and imaginative, and the scenery was exactly how I always imagined it reading Alice as a child. The Tweedles were spot on, as were the Red (Helena Bonham Carter) and White (Anne Hathaway) Queens, and Crispin Glover (yes, George McFly) is true to form as the Red Queen’s right-hand creepo. Then there’s Johnny Depp, who steals every scene to the point that I began longing for his Hatter antics whenever he was absent. Even Alice (newcomer Mia Wasikowska) was a perfect cast. Her mannerisms and voice seemed to be pulled straight out of the books. This movie was more than watchable and extremely enjoyable, yet something was lacking.

The story is your standard Hero’s Tale, as Joseph Campbell puts it:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Think Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or even Homer’s Odyssey, the Hero’s Tale follows the standard formula: “separation – initiation – return.” The Lewis Carroll books follow this formula to the tee, but Tim Burton’s iteration picks up after Alice’s initial visit to Wonderland and we miss the meat of the initiation section of the formula. Burton seems to leave it in the earlier tales, choosing only to recall the initiation rather than put Alice through a new one. There is little suspense in Alice’s character arc. Her destiny is foretold from the moment she returns to Wonderland and you are given very little reasons that she would ever choose to stray from that destiny. Any obstacles in her way seem more like speed bumps, and she begins to appear almost inhuman, never making a mistake, never straying far from her chosen path. It all seems a little too easy.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the filmmakers wanted to show that having a certain future can get boring; that a life without mistakes is uninteresting. Maybe they were making a case for reality television, where programs are seemingly founded on the idea of throwing as many mistakes into a controlled environment as they can [I doubt it]. Maybe they were just trying to show that without a little uncertainty in our lives or even in our movies, we begin to find ourselves longing for the company of a Hatter.

36 disappointingly arbitrary stars

  • Brandon

    I saw this movie yesterday and I came away with the same thoughts… good, but lacking something. However, why I feel it's lacking is where we differ. I thought Johnny Depp did an absolutely horrible job. Every time he was on screen, he bothered me. Personally, I feel he did an awful acting job and that whoever cast him did an even worse job. The only reason he's in the movie is because it's a Tim Burton movie…. and that's a poor reason to throw someone in a role they don't fit. Other than Depp, I thought the film was enjoyable.

  • DrChocolate

    Hated this flick and I'm a HUGE Burton and Depp fan. With the preponderence of CGI and Alice's disaffection I felt distant from the story – if Alice didn't care or believe – why should? And I'm tired of every kids book devolving into Lord of the Rings-lite, and Johnny Depp was, as Brandon said, annoying. Anne Hathaway was really the only redeeming part to me – she was hysterical. Raging disappointment of a film. Sorry this was your first ina while Luke.