'Alice' in blunderland

Posted on 04 Mar 2010 at 11:11pm

For months, the Disney marketing machine behind the live action, CGI-heavy Alice in Wonderland has seemed presumptuous: Johnny Depp’s face; the familiar title; Tim Burton as the director; audiences will appear.

And maybe they will. But to me, it has all seemed just so lazy. I haven’t been excited to see it; I know few people who are. And it turns out I was right. Why after the jump.

It’s easy to forget, but Alice is up there with The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca and the bible in its quotability factor and imagery: The March Hare, Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts; “down the rabbit hole;” “off with her head.” You could easily get lost in all the potential.

But Burton — who seemed wacky in his youth but now just seems needlessly dark and twisted — has made the least Disney-like Disney film ever … and not in a good way. It’s not a reimagining of the original so much as a total betrayal of it. There are long patches of complete dullness where merely staying awake is an effort. Burton’s obsession with damaging eyes (Crispin Glover plays a one-eyed “jack,” and several characters have their eyes plucked out or skewered) makes it a bit too intense for kids. Yet the Jabberwocky itself is less fearsome beast than recycled flying lizard a la Dragonslayer. Putting Alice in a sculpted metal breastplate, like some Victorian Joan of Arc battling the Jabberwock cheapens and trivializes the uniqueness of Alice; this is so many commonplace cliches told with no enthusiasm. It absorbs fun.

It’s also Depp’s worst performance to date, a bland revisiting of his Willy Wonka without the innate kookiness. The Mad Hatter has been expanded and perverted to accommodate Depp’s above-the-title cache, but at the expense of the movie itself.

The special effects (it’s also shown in IMAX 3-D) are noteworthy … or would have been if it had beat Avatar out of the gate. But the wow-factor of the oversized head on the Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter — Burton’s wife who seems unable to get work without nepotism) grown old quickly; only the motion-capture performance of Matt Lucas (Little Britain) a Tweedles Dum and Dee remains consistently entertaining. No, if you were waiting for something great, keep waiting. This is just another of the bloated bombs Hollywood has churned out this year.

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