Tell me I’m not alone in finding the new Tim Burton exercise in narcissism a crashing bore. (Except for the miraculous vision of Johnny Depp.) Obviously made to cash in on the momentary 3-D craze, Alice in Wonderland, the newest screen visitation to the holy shrine of Lewis Carroll is just not up to the task, I don’t care how much turquoise eyeshadow they put on Helena Bonham-Carter’s Betty Boop eyes!
Oh the opening definitely grabbed me, offering a shimmering reminder of the magic of Carroll’s shamanic fable of the role of the imagination in constructing the texture of reality. But when that tiny doorway finally lets the newly miniaturized Alice into the garden of talking flowers, things grew—not curiouser and curiouser, but rather more and more obvious, predictable, and in many cases, (ironically) unimaginative.
To relish the gorgeous face and nimble movements of Johnny Depp is to realize all over again that no artificially-generated imagery can match the nuance and depth of human action. But Depp’s appeal is almost drowned in computerized cliché and hackneyed set design.
The genius that brought us Edward Scissorhands somehow failed to gain any interpretive traction with this very fertile playground of linguistic hijinks and metaphysical frolic.
The CGI-intensive imagery grew very tired very quickly. And for the ultimate duel between Alice as St. George/Joan of Arc and the Dragon, Burton’s computer animation team simply phoned in a low-budget sci fi monster. A pathetic “denouement” for what could have been a shimmering voyage into the archetypal.
Ah. But this film did offer a spectacle so luscious, so piquant as to be almost redemptive.
Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter (perhaps a redundancy). Depp’s face is one of the most beautiful creations ever captured on the screen, with the oversized eyes that changed color according to his Scots/British accent and mood. The hyper-saturated red hair, matched by lips and eyelids, topping glistening white eyelashes and watered silk coats of midnight blue, all of this gives new glory to the entire concept of photoshopping.
Incapable of acting with less than supernatural vibrancy, Depp is flat-out astonishing, veering mercurially from plaintive to gothic. He of all the characters, live or otherwise, seems to have found purchase in this slippery pastiche of faded Monty Python tropes. Alas, as the Red Queen, Bonham-Carter simply fails to bring the needed weight to hold down her side of the chess match. Some bad choices were at work to saboutage her character, notably the lisp and the utterly negligible presence of Crispin Glover.
Oh how I wanted this film to catch fire! Depp’s electrifying presence was almost enough to justify the two hours of neutered storytelling. But not quite.