Despite lavish special effects, the new Alice in Wonderland lacks the wit and charm of the animated original. Also, it suffers from being both too violent, and not violent enough. There is a scene where the Dormouse skewers out the eye of the Bandersnatch, and another gruesome moment when Alice has to cross the moat around the Red Queen’s castle, using bobbing heads as stepping stones. Not to mention the dramatic and graphic decapitation of the Jabberwocky (depicted unimaginatively as a large dragon). These are surprisingly dark moments to find in a Disney movie, which typically has antagonists perish in an implied, off-screen fashion. But Alice‘s villain is not actually v. villainous. Unlike Ursula the Sea Witch or Cruella DeVille or Scar, one cannot find a compelling reason to hate the Red Queen. Disney probably didn’t want to make her too vicious, in fears of traumatizing their younger viewers, but the result is that she is stripped of her bad-guy credibility. In Lewis Carroll’s book, and in the original movie, the Red Queen is rather horrid, but we’re not meant to take her seriously, and it’s a mistake to ask us to try. In fact, one feels sorry for the Red Queen (a CG-altered Helena Bonham Carter), who is apparently unloved simply b/c she is not as pretty as her younger sister, the diaphanous White Queen, played by a rather dazed-looking Anne Hathaway. This has made her understandably bitter, but she is also touchingly vulnerable to even the smallest hint of kindness and commiseration. She takes in and shelters a preternaturally tall Alice, telling her that she understands what it’s like to be different. I found myself thinking, Sure, she beheads people, but it’s only b/c she’s insecure. One is not supposed to feel ambivalent about the villains in fairy tales; the chief pleasures to be derived from such stories lie in their simplicity and clarity, the sharp division btwn. good and evil, kindness and malice.
Then there is the problem of the Mad Hatter. I realize that Mr. Burton and Mr. Depp (who incarnates the Hatter) have a long, illustrious history of collaboration, but I fear that this has blinded Mr. Burton to certain realities. The Mad Hatter receives entirely too much screen time, even though—most maddeningly of all—he isn’t actually mad. Indeed, the only thing crazy about him is his costume and make-up. He’s been burdened w/ a subplot that’s as makeshift and slapdash as painting white roses red: he worked for the White Queen before the Jabberwocky came and ruined their beautiful lives together. It’s utter rubbish, lacking in imagination and unsupportable even in a story that is essentially nonsensical. Burton takes away all the ambiguity surrounding the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare (are they friend or foe?), and w/ it, all the interest they hold for the viewer. Mr. Burton, it would seem, is not a fan of mystery. He even offers an answer (of sorts) to the riddle: Why is a raven like a writing desk? IS NOTHING SACRED? He has forgotten that sometimes the beauty of a riddle lies not in the cleverness of its answer, but rather the question itself.
All in all, the movie was a huge disappointment. It’s somehow more galling when Hollywood butchers beloved classics. I can sit quite happily through the most vapid of romantic comedies (except for The Ugly Truth, which I refuse to see), but bad movies seem somehow inexcusable when the source material is so wonderful. (I guess I shouldn’t be surprised; I haven’t really liked anything Burton has done since The Nightmare Before Christmas).
Bottom line: Disney did a beautiful job w/ Alice in Wonderland the first time around, but, like the director they hired, it seems they couldn’t just leave well enough alone.