I really like Johnny Depp. His ability to immerse himself in a role and run with it is a testament to his unmitigated talent as a professional actor. He’s done drama (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?), fantasy (Edward Scissorhands), adventure (the Pirates movies), and family fare (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). His body of work is extensive and shows a definite range that has kept him from being typecast in similar roles over and over again.
So I was frustrated by his turn as The Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland. There was something off about the whole production that made it hard for me to get drawn into the film and enjoy it. Yes, the effects, the make-up, and the world of Wonderland are all stunning. I’m sure it looked even more amazing in Disney Digital 3D. But much like Avatar, once you strip away the spectacle, there doesn’t appear to be much left.
Alice’s main flaw is its weak story and its over-abundance of characters that deliver little to the overall framework of the story as a whole. Yes, it’s amusing to see so many odd and silly-looking creatures, but after a while they become merely an attempt to mask what is truly missing: a solid plot with interesting characters.
I know that this is Alice returning to Wonderland to find it in worse shape than when she left it 13 years before. Has she come to fix things? Resolve matters? Or is she just a victim of circumstance thrust into one awkward situation after the next? I’m leaning toward the third option.
The story becomes episodic quickly as Alice goes from one situation after the next denying that she is who everyone believes or doesn’t believe she is. She’s passive for the bulk of the film and only becomes an active participant in her own adventure toward the end of the film when she has no other choice. So who picks up the slack? That would be The Mad Hatter. But the film isn’t called The Mad Hatter in Wonderland, it’s Alice in Wonderland.
I found it hard to enjoy Depp as the Mad Hatter (even when he was…break dancing???). I loved him as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as his roles in Sleepy Hollow and Ed Wood. But as the Mad Hatter I just couldn’t find anything interesting about the character. Yes, his clothes, his hair, his enlarged eyes are nice and all, but the character himself was boring.
And that was my thought about all of the characters in this version of Alice in Wonderland: They were all boring. Now, this may have been done on purpose to ensure that the characters at no time upstaged the effects and the other visual treats throughout the film. I do however believe that you can have kick-ass effects and a solid story with entertaining characters all in the same movie.
This is a visually stunning movie, which is its primary intent. There’s a reason it was shot in 3D (and you can clearly see when you watch it in 2D how cool the 3D version would have been). But with that element of the film stripped away, you can see what little remains for us to be entertained by. I expected more from Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Linda Woolverton (she wrote Beauty and the Beast, too).
So, that’s my opinion on the film. Please feel free to leave your opinion in the comment section below. Now, onto the special features, which were actually more entertaining that the film, in my opinion. They include:
Finding Alice; The Mad Hatter; The Futterwacken; The Red Queen; Time-Lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen; and The White Queen
Scoring Wonderland; Effecting Wonderland; Stunts of Wonderland; Making the Proper Size; Cakes of Wonderland; and Tea Party Props
In this edition you also get a DVD and Digital Copy of the film.
Alice in Wonderland is a trip I’m glad I only have to take once. I recommend you check out the original animated Disney version of Alice in Wonderland (1951) instead. Far more entertaining and a much more satisfying journey.