I didn’t expect, or particularly want, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to be “faithful” to the Lewis Carroll books — much as I love them, and have loved them, since I first read them decades ago. But I didn’t expect, or want, this new film version to leave me so depressed, either, and that it certainly did.
Yes, depressed even more than disappointed, although disappointed was part of the mix, particularly considering the talent involved in making the film both in front of and behind the camera, or should I say at the computer keyboard. Tim Burton is a fantastic (in all senses of the word) filmmaker, and the majority of his films are full of quirky, vibrant life even when they go off the rails. But Alice, for all its technical wonder, is missing something vital at its core.
I’m tempted to say that the missing something is innocence, or even a belief in the possibility of innocence, but I don’t think that’s it. I think this Alice is missing a sense of fun—or a sense of what a serious business fun can be.
The film does have a sense of humor, albeit a sarcastic one. Helena Bonham Carter’s bulbous-headed, imperious Queen of Hearts is a caricature of every high school bitch-goddess who makes sure the minion-ettes surrounding her aren’t too pretty, lest they accidentally outshine her. Crispin Glover, as her flunky/hit man Stayne, has recaptured some of that George McFly intensity and mixed it with a solid helping of Basil Rathbone-esque ham to make a tasty villain. And Matt Lucas, doubled to create Tweedledum and Tweedledee, is/are every chubby, cowardly fat boy that’s ever wiped his runny nose with his sleeve.
But a sense of humor is different than a sense of fun. Lewis Carroll had both. His witty verbal wordplay in both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is still wondrous to behold some 150 years after their composition. More than that, he uses a deft touch as his Alice — polite but not perfect, curious, and with a bit of a temper herself — encounters a collection of vain, self-important, pompous, thoughtless (though rarely overtly cruel), anxious, fretful creatures. In other words, adults, as an intelligent, observant child, or a shy, bookish bachelor with a weird fondness for little girls, sees them.