Much like Hook (1991), Alice in Wonderland sends an aged protagonist back to a fantasy land in an amnesiac state to resolve an unfinished conflict from his and her first visit, respectively. Hook by all critics’ accounts was an abomination of a classic fairytale (22% on rottentomatoes.com), but damn it I liked it. There was tension between a middle class, overworked family man and his neglected children, who Robin Williams (the perennial man-child) must reconcile with through a reversion to childlike innocence that he lost in the damnable workaday world.
Alice in Wonderland offers us nothing close to this level of complexity, other than the tomboyish Alice living a century in the future in her ideals, which all live action Disney protagonists seem to do as a repentance for the widespread misogyny of the corporation’s animated features. The line “I don’t believe in corsets” reminds me all too much of Keira Knightly’s line in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003):
With a defiant look on her face
Try wearing a corset!
In short, there is no pretext for a revisit to Wonderland, much like there was no pretext for other Tim Burton remakes (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)). Mr. Burton has shown his penchant for remaking pop culture mythology (see his fabulous Batman and Batman Returns) but he perhaps relies too much on his writers to deliver him a script worth following, and there is no question about his over-reliance on CGI in this film. There was once a day, that is embedded in our collective nostalgia, where real actors were called upon to gesticulate, emote, and suffer ludicrous makeup and wardrobes in order to present an otherworldly image of fantastic brilliance which captivated our attention for two hours. In a sentence, the death of such an era in this film may be summed up as follows: “one of the best performances was Helena Bonham Carter’s voice.”
Motion capture when combined with CGI may prove a valuable tool for filmmakers (see my review of Avatar), but it is far from perfected. In general, acting performances were lukewarm with no real convincing or endearing charcters, John Depp’s Mad Hatter least of all. No amount of sashaying or, regrettably, break dancing, can make the screenwriting any better than it is.
I won’t go so far as to point out the historical inaccuracies in gender politics (you can ask me in person if you care), but it seems like no thought at all was put into the framing device for Alice’s journey. At best, giving the writer (Linda Woolverton) the benefit of the doubt as she wrote for classics such as Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994), there may have been an editor who chopped this segment of the movie to hell; however, the writing is unforgiving and the lines are delivered in the modern style of “sponge in mouth” a.k.a. “mouthful of cookies” so that half the movie is unintelligible. A disappointment to be sure:
3/10: Redbox/Netflix only, and only during summer