What we as audience members and movie lovers must remember is that there is no such thing as a bad idea. Not really, anyway. Adapting Alice in Wonderland to the live-action arena, for instance, is not a bad idea. Animation provided Disney with some magnificent visuals and a thoroughly well-defined feature that brought the characters written by Lewis Carroll to life with faithful effectiveness. What we as audience members and movie lovers must also remember is that, if there is even a little crux of whimsy found in a feature film, then Tim Burton would, probably, love to adapt it and slather his strange shtick all over it. Hence, Alice in Wonderland, of course starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
They are his two muses, or at least they were for some time. Now they have ebbed away, scratch marks on the mind that once brought us an awful adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and an amicable attempt at making the mind of Ed Wood seem controllable. He has had his highs and lows with this rustic aesthetic, and with Alice in Wonderland, it does detract from the colourful charms exhibited by the original animated piece. His pacing is slow and overbearing, with artistic choices made more to highlight his own style rather than that of the amazing imagination of Carroll. By all means, leave your mark on your own body of work, but Alice in Wonderland has none of the wonder or charm that set out the highs of the original. In its place are disgusting special effects and brief amalgamations of characters whose charm depended on their design.
Take Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Nightmare fuel for the ages in this Burton feature, and we have Matt Lucas to thank for that role of double trouble. Ensembles are no issue for Burton, who can somehow conjure up the finest actors at the oddest of times. Alan Rickman, Michael Sheen, Anne Hathaway and Timothy Spall all crop up in various capacities, and none are all that memorable. We should be thankful that they are not etched on our minds as badly as Lucas. Even then, the designs for the human characters are particularly weak. A scene depicting a grand party of white dresses and light grey colours is overbearing. Burton’s style is overbearing at the best of times, but here it feels boring and stagnant, whilst also being thoroughly in your face.
That is the issue, though. Burton wishes for his style to be front and centre at all times. It is within Alice in Wonderland, and that is the greatest weakness of the feature. Mia Wasikowska’s leading role is fine and her representation of Alice is well-meaning and acted well, it is just the direction she is given that feels underwhelming and thoroughly flat at times. But no actor can, and even though Burton has lined up the likes of Imelda Staunton and Paul Whitehouse in some severely sickening case of mandatory duty to the Disney machine, they can make neither heads nor tails of this dire adaptation. There was room for excellent visualisations, but Burton feels clumsy and predictable in this odd amalgamation of period-piece moments and flaky fantasy elements.