Tim Burton’s latest re-imagining of a classic tale actually betrays a distinct lack of imagination.
In this specially-created third story in the surreal ‘Alice’ series (after the original …In Wonderland, and …Through The Looking-Glass), the heroine is now nineteen, and believes that her previous adventures were just strange dreams. The daughter of a Victorian inventor, an arranged marriage to a stuck-up aristocrat looms large, until she follows the White Rabbit one more time, and falls down the hole to ‘Underland’ (apparently she misheard its name on her previous visits).
Whatever it’s called, the place has been ruled by the Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter) for the last thirteen years. And though she is tyrannical on a personal level (and still likes to separate people from their heads), life doesn’t seem so bad for people outside her court. Unfortunately, this is because life outside her court is not really examined, and Burton takes it as read that people will buy into the good/evil dichotomy thing that Disney have bashed us over the head with. So anyway, the weird and wonderful animals of the magical land call Alice back to kill the Red Queen’s Jabberwocky with the Vorpal Sword on the Frabjous Day. It’s prophesied, after all.
Yes, the effects are wonderful, and children will no doubt find the 3D CGI experience an absorbing one, as long as it lasts. But the extremely thin plot and poor characterisation means it is unlikely to be remembered as a classic. Alice (the inexperienced Mia Wasikowska), appears underwhelmed by her whole journey, and her final ‘makeover’ as a strong, independent female seems forced. While Bonham-Carter is fun as the spoilt brat of a queen, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) is almost a blank, and a similar question can be raised: what’s so good about her, other than that she is snow white? Hathaway described her character as a “punk rock vegan pacifist”, but almost none of this comes across. And Johnny Depp as the Hatter could just as easily be his Willy Wonka with a ginger wig and an occasional Scottish-ish accent.
When Tim Burton burst onto the Hollywood scene twenty years ago with films like Beetle Juice and Edward Scissorhands, he brought something quite new to film, and his dark but ultimately warm-hearted vision won him legions of fans. Now, he has seemingly lost his “muchness” (to paraphrase the Hatter), at least when it comes to creating a compelling and believable alternate reality. He’s still an exceptional visual artist, but to be remembered as a great, he either needs to find someone else to spark some invention, or a new way of looking at the world.