Considering the promises of CGI Cheshire cats and 3-D Jabberwockys and general Johnny Deppness surrounding the new Alice in Wonderland, it seems besides the point to mention that Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story was, in fact, a comedy.
This Alice is not, and that is the picture’s fatal flaw. Director Tim Burton has fashioned a techno-fantasia that has nearly all of the characters from both “Alice” and “Through the Looking Glass” but little of Carroll’s nonsense dialogue, circular logic and inspired silliness.
Take Depp, who should have been perfect for the sort of clowning Carroll envisioned. (The best parts of the last Pirates film, after all, featured his Captain Jack Sparrow stuck in a surreal, undersea purgatory.) Depp’s Mad Hatter, however, is more rebel leader than host of a deranged, endless tea party. He quotes a riddle here and there, but in the film’s final,
Lord of the Rings-style battle sequence he can also be found brandishing a shining sword.
That battle is between the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) over the right to rule Wonderland. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) – now 19 and returning to Wonderland for the first time since she was a child – is on hand as the White Queen’s warrior.
Do you have a sense yet of how far this dim, 3-D Alice has strayed from the original delights of Carroll’s book?
Tellingly, the highlights are those that have the least to do with cutting-edge technology. The makeup – including Depp’s ghost-faced Hatter – is endlessly inventive, as are Alice’s many dresses. Each time she shrinks or grows, someone helpfully fashions a striking, Victorian punk number.
Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” has lasted 145 years not because he used the latest printing press, but because it is so bizarrely, byzantinely funny. Like so many other CGI spectacles, Alice will likely evaporate from memory, leaving less trace than a Cheshire cat.