I’ve written before that I’m not quite sure how I feel about Tim Burton. He’s made some imaginative, classic films, and even his clunkers are more watchable than 99% of the crap that passes for movies these days. Unfortunately, I think that the quality of Burton’s movies have been on a sharp decline in recent years – which brings me to his version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It’s not just Burton’s recent track record that is discouraging me from seeing his version of Alice, but that, from a creative standpoint, the story in Burton’s new film will likely go against the grain of the original.
I don’t think there’ll be much dissent when I say that Burton’s best films are his earlier works. In fact, I’d argue that since Big Fish in 2003, Burton hasn’t done anything all that impressive. Sweeney Todd was decent enough, but it really doesn’t compare to Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, or even Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Charlie in the Chocolate Factory was incredibly dull, which is interesting considering it was also exercise in style-over-substance. Really, Charlie was an excuse to appeal to audience’s collective sense of nostalgia and to dress up Johnny Depp and parade him around in quasi-creative settings. As great as an actor as Johnny Depp is, even he couldn’t approach Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, and without the gravity of the movie’s central character, the remake fell incredibly flat.
What does all this have to do with Alice in Wonderland? I’m certainly not trying to pick on Burton or overemphasize his shortcomings as a director, but the fact remains that Burton has tried his hand at existing stories before. I happen to like Burton’s Planet of the Apes, but not only does it not compare to the original, I’m in the very small minority of those who like it in the first place. And so, with 3-D all the rage now thanks to Avatar (does anyone else find it laughable that Clash of the Titans is all of a sudden in 3-D? It wasn’t filmed using 3-D technology, you know), I can’t help but think that Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is going to be a half-baked concoction of Burton’s quirky style, Johnny Depp’s penchant for playing weirdos, and CGI characters we won’t care about whatsoever. If I’ve noticed one thing from Burton’s films over the past few years, it’s that Burton – like I’ve written before – has essentially become a parody of himself. Gone are the haunting yet gentle moments we saw in Edward Scissorhands, replaced instead by an assault of digital scenery and costume design.
Tim Burton’s style aside, though, my doubts about Alice also spawn from the fact that this isn’t really a remake at all, but a sequel on sorts to Lewis Carroll’s original. I’m not sure whether or a not a sequel to Alice is a good idea in the first place, but from what I’ve read and seen of Burton’s upcoming film, the story is a far departure from the tone and themes found not only in Carroll’s book, but in the adaptations of that book, as well. In Carroll’s book, Alice finds herself the only sane being in a land full of mad creatures. Logic plays a huge part in the story, as Alice uses logic to support her reasoning, while the inhabitants of Wonderland use a sort of backwards logic to avoid reason. This is the crux of Alice in Wonderland, and drug metaphors aside, the reason it has become such a cherished story. The Disney adaptation is terrific and, despite it being a cartoon, understands and embraces the difference in “logic” employed by Alice and, say, the Queen. The 1972 version, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “gets it,” too; although that may be too faithful of an adaptation. (Not to mention that it suffers from a pretty crappy budget).
Now, in Burton’s sequel (according to imdb.com): “9-year-old Alice returns to the magical world from her childhood adventure, where she reunites with her old friends and learns of her true destiny: to end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.” Old friends? Like who, the Mad Hatter? No, Alice didn’t have any friends her first time through Wonderland, especially not the Mad Hatter. She was either repulsed or confused by everyone and everything she met, lost in a dizzying land where logic and reason are tossed to the wayside. I’m not looking for a perfect homage to the original story, but the synopsis of Burton’s version pretty confirms my suspicions – that the new Alice in Wonderland, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, will be a vapid yet stylish movie with no real attraction aside from quirky set designs and disproportionately built characters. Because if Burton’s Alice isn’t an homage or an intelligent sequel to the original, then how could it be anything other than the capitalization of the public’s love for Johnny Depp and 3-D?
Make no mistake, Alice in Wonderland is going to be very successful commercially. But anyone expecting another classic is in for a huge disappointment. And again, I really don’t mean this to be an attack on Tim Burton – I really enjoy a bunch of his films. If the movie’s any good, I’ll be the first to say so, but my expectations really couldn’t be much lower.