I am a big, big, big fan of Tim Burton. And “Alice in Wonderland” is one movie I’ve looked forward to for all these months. In as much as I totally love the dark, Expressionist Burton trademark (which is one of my top reasons of falling in love with the filmmaking spirit of Mr. Burton), “Alice” is a pretty disappointment.
Stylish but dispirited, style over substance, great visuals but lacking story, a feast for the eyes but not for the heart, teeming with marvelous sights but hollow at its core, overwhelming visuals but underwhelming storytelling, great canvas but not a great film… whatever I call it, this Disney movie is definitely not the masterpiece I hoped for. It looks more like a coffeetable book showcasing CGI greatness than cinematic storytelling at its finest. It’s not within the caliber of “Edward Scissorhands” nor “Big Fish.”
A Tim Burton interpretation of the Lewis Carroll classic is something intriguing and exciting. But shockingly, it just doesn’t work. It lacks the energy and emotional power to create the story more than just a vision inside the filmmaker’s head. Maybe it’s because of the pressure from the producers having to live up with that Disney or maybe mainstream mark that Burton loses his authentic touch to it. Interestingly, Burton is one of the producers as well. Needless to say, those shelling out the big bucks are the ones on top control, of course.
It’s still a feat given the visual effects, production design and art direction. The visual splendor is there. The other departments turn out mediocre. Generally, the dialogue can’t live up to the films look. Empty, atmospheric and lacking a soul, some individual pieces actually work at times, but it never works as a whole.
I appreciate Burton’s love for the character designs as he expresses them with such creative wizardry. The amazing offbeat aesthetics as individual pieces are whimsically great in its own dark and bizarre fashion. Ken Ralston’s visual effects are pleasantly surreal; Robert Stromberg’s production design is dazzling and fun. Dariusz Wolski’s photography is wonderfully magical. Yet all these can’t cover up the screenplay’s loopholes. It has its moments, but everything doesn’t fall into one coherent piece. Danny Elfman’s musical score has some magical parts, but it doesn’t transcend to wonderful heights. Chris Lebenzon’s cutting is considerably fine, but it doesn’t reflect the supposed marriage of a Burton vision and a Carroll story.
The performances are sometimes spot on, sometimes out of range. Overall, they don’t translate into a firm grip to let the audience relate to and sympathize with the characters. The film falls short in engaging with the motivation needed to drive the character arcs. From frequent Burton collaborators including Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, to first-time Burton collaborators Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, they provide characters that work more on solo flights.
About its 3D version, unlike with a movie such as “Avatar,” this film doesn’t really work well for that immersive 3D experience. It seems to follow the path of “Up” (though “Up” is a very emotional, honest, and almost perfect film unlike this shallow visual feast) which is unable to give enough on the 3D aspect of it. It works at its best in 2D. And this could be attributed to the utilizing of the film language by all the film collaborators set to what they’ve been accustomed to way before the sudden demand for 3D stereoscopic productions. In the same way, this is another aspect to look into when considering the possible reasons why “Alice in Wonderland” is not able to go beyond the mere provision for atmosphere and visual splendor. It lacks that captivating spirit in 3D maybe because this format requires a specific sub-culture of storytelling standards to live up to its own immersive film sub-language. And to add to this is the fact that the technical requirements for filming in 3D is not entirely the same as the conventional filmmaking process done in 2D. The 3D here doesn’t look absorbing enough to recreate a new mythmaking factor for the film.
Burton’s individual stamp of masterful storytelling really doesn’t seem to register here. And with its wavering tone that is as uncertain as Alice’s decision-making, Burton and company should really dig a lot deeper if they soon decide to make a sequel.