Oh Tim Burton, how far you've fallen. I remember the glory days of Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and the brilliance of Ed Wood. Then the 90's ended and you made Planet of the Apes. You haven't been the same since.
Alice in Wonderland is no exception to this trend. As with Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it's a movie that didn't need to be remade. But then there's also the argument that it's not a remake, but in fact a sequel. When viewed in this context, Burton's Alice plays like a distant, hazy memory, and if you haven't seen the original Disney cartoon in a while, you may actually be fooled into swallowing the fusion of two classic Lewis Carroll yarns as original.
The irony is this concept is the only interesting thing the new adaptation offers over previous interpretations. Having not caught the 1951 version since childhood, I felt a little more like Alice on her journey back to Wonderland, trying to figure out what was new and what was always there. It's a cool idea, but I would have preferred if Burton and Disney would have played it up as a straight sequel and not a remake.
There's a lot to be excited about in the new Alice, from Johnny Depp's schizophrenic Mad Hatter, to Helena Bonham Carter's massive Red Queen head, to the floating fuzziness of the Chesshire Cat. The 3-D effects are pretty cool, and the CGI worlds do look enticingly surreal, but it's just not that much fun when it's all said and done. It's missing the heart and soul of Burton's earlier works, and even some of the personality and mysticism that propelled Big Fish. In short, it's another big budget Burton movie that sets out to dazzle and entertain with special effects and spectacle over story and character.
That's not to say the story in Alice isn't good, it's just that the film seems more concerned about making Crispin Glover extra tall and skinny and turning Alan Rickman into a caterpillar. Some of the digital characters are downright disturbing, and I'm not talking about the Jabberwocky- Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum look like the illegitimate stepchildren of Humpty Dumpty and Pugsley from the Addams Family. It's this drive to make all these characters fantastically believable, yet cartoonishly morbid at the same time that gets tiresome after a while, and doesn't quite work as well in a photographic realm as it does on paper. Looking at Burton's original sketch for the Red Queen, it feels like there's a lot more character and quirkiness inherent in the design than comes across on screen in the digitized version. If it wasn't for Helena Bonham Carter, the character wouldn't be much fun at all.
And that's really where Alice shines, in the performances. Helena Bonham Carter makes the vanity and insanity of the Red Queen not just palpable, but highly entertaining. From the inflections of her voice to the stuffiness of her body language, it's a wonderful portrayal of a hyperbolic character. The same can be said for Johnny Depp, whose insanity is quite amusing to look at, even if his orange eyebrows, candy-colored eyes and pale skin are maddening to look at. Mia Wasikowska is decent as Alice, though it's not the kind of strong lead performance one would expect, but I suppose it's a passable interpretation of a young, indecisive girl with attention deficit disorder. Crispin Glover is classically creepy, and extra tall, but the performance is far from George McFly and not even close to his brief but brilliant rendition of Andy Warhol.
All in all, I feel like Alice is just a collage of Burton-esque scenery without the soul of his earlier pieces, trying to be quirky, but letting digital shennanigans twist his spooky and bizarre imagination into an odd hybrid of reality and fantasy. It kind of looks like a Tim Burton movie, but it doesn't quite feel like one, at least it doesn't feel like the ones I remember so fondly, much like the Alice of this new Wonderland.