There are two Tim Burtons. One is the hyper-talented visionary who cranks out classics such as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Big Fish. And then there’s the other Tim Burton, the hack remake guy whose unnecessary, hyperactive retreads have soiled the images of Planet of the Apes, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and now, Alice in Wonderland.
Even at his worst, Burton’s work is always watchable and giddily entrancing. His Alice in Wonderland doesn’t entertain so much as it assaults – especially in 3D, in which I saw the movie – by carpet-bombing the audience with nonsensical, though stunning, special effects and gibberish-talking characters. Not to mention an unchained Johnny Depp, who turns the Mad Hatter into a dude who would scare everyone else at a convention for freaky homeless guys.
It’s an unwritten rule that Depp must be a sex symbol in just about all his movies, even when he’s wearing a red, frizzy wig, and he becomes something of a platonic love interest for the 20-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska), who tumbles down the rabbit hole after she runs off from a surprise arranged marriage proposal.
Burton conveniently frames the film as a sequel – having characters mention again and again that this is Alice’s second trip to Wonderland – while also giving Alice amnesia, so he can throw in memorable characters at random while not needing to re-introduce them or explain how they relate to Alice. The overall plot, in which Alice is foretold by fate to overthrow the wicked Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and slay her pet dragon, is lame enough to be straight out of The Chronicles of Narnia, though.
Tweedlee and Tweedledum could have come up with a more compelling pseudo-sequel concept and crafted a more cohesive narrative. But again, this is Burton in remake mode, and this is about all you can expect from this ugly side of the inconsistent master.
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Written by Linda Woolverton, adapted from the Lewis Carroll book. Directed by Tim Burton. 108 minutes. Rated PG.
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