Why I Don’t Think Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Will Be Any Good


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 AdventureCharlie 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.

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  1. I’m sorry to say I agree with you. Although I did like Sweeney Todd (If it wasn’t musical like it would be one of his best) this won’t become a classic. Hope he doesn’t continue making remakes after Frankenweenie(?) end start making en new original classic(which he does every 5 years)

  2. I enjoyed this piece. However, the basis for your argument is an imdb quote – not exactly the most reliable source for anything. “Old friends” can mean anything, doesn’t have to be literal. I hope this is good, but expectations are pretty low.

  3. @ Jeff

    I used to imdb synopsis to pretty much sum up what else I’ve seen and read. I think it’s pretty clear from the trailers that the Mad Hatter and Alice are indeed “friends,” or at least maintain some sort of “logical” relationship. So my basis is really not just the imdb quote, but trailers and other things I’ve read, either online or in magazines.

    Thanks for reading; glad you enjoyed.

  4. I pretty much agree with you, except that I absolutely despised Sweeney Todd. I thought it was idiotic. I probably won’t watch Alice in Wonderland, I think it looks kind of pointless and to be honest both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in costume freak me right the fuck out.

  5. i have a deep disgust toward what tim burton (and johnny depp and helena bonham carter) have done to the movies…. i was thinking about tim burton movies the other day. i can honestly say that beetlejuice and pee-wee’s big adventure are the only old movies of his i enjoy. i liked nightmare before christmas…. when i was 8. i do enjoy big fish, too and didn’t hate planet of the apes. however, everything else is soooo horrible.

  6. I’m of the ‘I wanna see it to SEE it’ group. I liked the Disney version when I was little and sort of remember the story…I wouldn’t consider myself a Burton fan or a Depp fan but this movie looks cool ya know? I expect to be sitting by a group of people high on mushrooms or whatever and freaking themselves out so I guess even if the movie isn’t that great I can watch them for 2 hours!

  7. I agree completely – I’m no huge fan of Burton/Depp to begin with, but if they had to do this project, why not just remake the original story? Enough time has certainly passed that a big-budget remake with modern set design/special effects would be interesting, and there’s a whole generation who hasn’t seen a big-screen adaptation.

    The whole “Mad Hatter as Alice’s friend” is ludicrous for all the reasons you mention, and it looks like they’ve turned it into some kind of stupid “Narnia plus Matrix/Harry Potter/Star Wars” perversion where you absolutely have to have the “child of destiny/savior of humanity” crap.

  8. It doesn’t sound like it will be fantastic. I got that “Chocolate Factory” vibe from this from the first trailer I saw. The only logical reason I can figure for making a sequel story is so that they can give Depp more screen time, as he will be the big money draw for the movie.

    Also, what does everyone think about the long-rumored Burton remake of The Wizard of Oz? While it would be interesting to see Burton’s take on the land of Oz (he does usually have terrific set design,) that seems like a movie that most definitely does NOT need a remake. The original is such a landmark for so many things, and it still holds up well today.

  9. Did you see the Sci-Fi (or should I say Sy-Fy?) original mini-series “Alice”?

    That’s basically the plot of the show.

    Alice (or in the show’s case, not THE Alice just Alice) goes to Wonderland and, with the help of the Mad Hatter, takes down the Queen of Hearts’ tyrannical rule.

    I’d rather just watch the mini-series cuz the guy who played the Mad Hatter in the show was much cuter.

  10. wasn’t there already a sequel to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” called “Alice’s Adventure’s Through the Looking Glass”? and, correct me if i’m wrong but, isn’t that where all the chess imagery comes from? i loved both of these books as a kid & i’d hate to see the stories be overtaken by a bunch of hipsters 🙁

    (they already did this with “Where the Wild Things Are”)

  11. I have to agree with ya Madison. I’ve no real interest in seeing this movie. I’ve told the fiancée that she is more that welcome to go by herself. I think ultimately I’ve just gotten tired of Tim Burton. The problem with Tim Burton in my mind is that his asthetic while visually interesting really hasn’t changed much in quite sometime leading most of his recent films to all kind of feel the same.

    With regard to Burton’s adaptation of the story, I think another reason I have a hard time accepting the adapted story is that I would rather that Burton was adapting Frank Beddor’s “Looking Glass Wars” series. Which is a really interesting adaptation of the Alice in Wonderland universe.

  12. I have to point out that even if you hate Tim Burton and Depp this article has one major flaw. The writer doesn’t seem to know that there was a second book, like Lola said. And in that book people recognised Alice even though she didn’t know them.

    If you want to call bullshit on Burton’s style go nuts (it wouldn’t hurt if he learned new tricks) but don’t piss on the story because you can’t be arsed learning more about the subject.

  13. @ Kakmize

    I’m well aware of the “second book,” but it was structured the same as the first and maintained its tone and (lack of) reasoning. Burton’s new film totally diverges from both stories.

    And I don’t hate Tim Burton or Depp. I think I made that pretty clear. I think you’ve misinterpreted my argument.

    I can piss on the story PRECISELY because I know about the subject.

  14. The whole point of this was not to remake a classic. Burton has said in interviews that the story/plot is supposed to be different. You can’t hate a movie or director because he’s not remaking a classic. It’s no different than what Ledger did to Batman. Have a go at that movie instead.

    I personally think it looks good. Yes it may be digitally heavy, but what isn’t now a days. As a film student, this is where they are pushing things to go.

  15. I agree with most of the points in this article except for the parts about charlie and the chocolate factory. Tim Burton’s version actually did a better job of following the book than the earlier version willy wonka and the chocolate factory (this movie’s title being different from the book stemmed partly from the fact that it was very different). While Tim Burton’s version wasn’t perfect, it also did a much better job than it’s given credit, especially as you can’t compare wilder and depp, the two movies are too different.
    As for Alice, while I do agree with most of the points made, I also have to point out that Burton never promised a legitamite sequel, that was just the best description he could give. If you don’t try to pin it as a perfect sequel, and think of it as more of a “What could possible happen next given these possible events occuring (the marriage proposal)…” it’s acutally a pretty good movie

  16. I loved Sweeney Todd, and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are pretty much my favourite people alive, but I have to agree here. Parts of it were made far too tacky. I enjoyed the movie, but there was so much room for improvement. You’d think with the combined brilliance in the minds behind the film, someone could’ve fixed that.

  17. This comment is obviously very late, but this particular adaption of “Alice in Wonderland” is a retelling of Carroll’s sequel to her original piece. It isn’t Burton’s version of the original story.

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