Saturday, March 6, 2010

10 Reasons Why I Hated Tim Burton's Alice

For the sake of brevity, I'm just going to make a list of the top ten reasons I did NOT enjoy Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland:

1. The only excuse I can come up with for the thin plot and juvenile humor is that it was intended for children. Personally I think the marketing people made it seem like it would appeal to everyone, and perhaps might even be more appropriate for an older audience. Alas, this is not the case.

2. The characters go through the motions of the plot without any good reason. It seems as if, off screen, they are referring to the script. "Okay, now I go here and help Alice. Can't imagine why, but whatever, it pays the bills..."

3. I think the screenwriter, Tim Burton, and the designers just flipped through Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass simply to glean ideas from John Tenniel's illustrations (rocking-horse flies, snapdragon flies, disproportionate body parts) and "cool" quotes. The quotes were particularly grating. They seemed to be taken at random and shoved into the plot as a wink and a nod to Alice fans, but it really just came off as smug and ignorant--"See how we did that right there with that little bit of dialogue we stole from Lewis Carroll?? Instead of using it to bring new meaning to the story, we're just going to repeat it OVER AND OVER to make it SEEM as if it means something."

4. I HATE when people combine the Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass and the Queen of Hearts from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It particularly annoys me because the Red Queen has some of my favorite bits of dialogue. I think mixing the playing card imagery of the first book with the chess piece imagery of the second just waters it all down to a confusing mishmash. The final battle ended up being playing card soldiers vs chess piece knights when it could have been just chess pieces and would have been more symmetrical and much cooler, especially considering that the battlefield was, of course, a chess board.

5. I hate to say this, but Johnny Depp was irritating at best. The infamous accent that Tim Burton was squealing over is actually a bunch of accents that change depending on the moment. I suspect that Depp did this on purpose to SHOW us how mad the Hatter is. But smashing together Mike Myers' Fat Bastard with Captain Jack Sparrow just didn't do it for me.

6. And another thing about the Mad Hatter (and some of you may disagree with me on this). In the books I didn't find him all that mad. Very literal-minded, quirky, and not entirely sane perhaps but not totally and completely insane. I agree with Depp that he's somewhat of a tragic figure (especially when he is being cross examined by the King of Hearts in one of Tenniel's most well known illustrations from the books, see below) but making him straight up insane just seems lazy.

Image borrowed from The Victorian Web site, with many thanks.

7. A third and final comment on the Mad Hatter--was he supposed to be a maybe, sort of romantic interest for Alice? Because Curt and I turned to each other at a couple uncomfortable moments. Hello, Johnny Depp may look eternally young but we all know he's not young enough to be making eyes at a seventeen year old. As Depp chides Alice in the movie, "Naughty."

8. Anne Hathaway's White Queen. She just swans around with her black lipstick and white wig like a ballerina in a pantomime pas de deux. Why are we supposed to believe she's the best queen for the job?? Apparently because the only alternative is much worse.

9. The framing story goes beyond cliche in its clicheness. There's the foppish would-be fiancee, the shrewish potential mother-in-law, the stodgy people who just don't get why Alice is WEIRD. But of course we, the audience, understand completely, since Alice conveniently hates corsets. Ah, she is a modern woman after all.

10. I can't come up with a single reason why I'm glad I saw this movie. Even Matt Lucas (whom I adore) couldn't redeem it for me. Nor is there a single character I enjoyed. Sorry, folks but that's the truth. Take your children to this if you must, but don't expect to enjoy it. And if you haven't already, for goodness sake READ THE BOOKS!

Editor's Note 3.10.10: In retrospect, the "hate" in my title is a bit harsh. I did not enjoy the movie but I suppose I didn't hate it. Perhaps in 3D I would have been able to feast on the visuals more, and leave the story behind.

Also in the past few days, my husband and I have been bringing up the Chesire Cat several times. He is very well done (particularly when he kneads the Hatter's hat in a very catlike way--hilarious and understated. Wish there had been more of those sorts of details.)

And Helena Bonham Carter was wonderful, I just wish she'd been given a little more to work with not only with character but with plot as well. There, I feel better.


  1. I have heard of lot of the same criticisms and this makes me sad. I really wanted to see this, but I also -really- like having a solid story behind all the pretty visuals. I actually just started reading the books yesterday (I know, crazy that I haven't yet).

    I was going to read them and then see the movie, but now I'm wondering if I should just give up all hope of enjoying those two hours, skip it and just read the books. Or if I should go see the movie with a friend, then read the books and revel in the literary original.

  2. Actually I didn't read the books until my junior year of college. I think adults can enjoy the books as much, if not more so, than children.

    Since most of us have already seen the animated Disney version, I don't think watching this new movie will "ruin" the books for you (especially since the plot doesn't follow the books). Honestly I wouldn't bother seeing the movie, but if you're curious about it,you might as well.

    I don't think anything can ruin the experience of reading the books! I hope you like them : )

  3. Oh I'm sure the movie wouldn't hurt my enjoyment of the books, but rather the reverse, reading the books and then being even more disappointed in the film. Despite the various bad reviews I've read of the movie, I still kind of want to see it. (Glutton for punishment, anyone?)

    I have been able to enjoy a number of book adaptations by either reading the book it was based on years before, or waiting to read the book until after seeing the movie version. I'm thinking I probably won't see Alice unless a friend really wants to go.