One of the most frequently adapted-for-screen stories is Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic, Alice in Wonderland. Walt Disney’s animated version of the film remains one of the most whimsical and charming versions. It set the bar high for any other Alice films to be made in the future. I must confess that I’m a bit biased here. I’m quite the Disney purist (ideal vacation? You guessed it: Disney World), and 1951’s Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve read the book more times than I can count. I used to love playing on the Alice statue in Central Park when I was little. I even wrote a paper on the movie for a class on the Cold War that I took in high school. It remains one of the movies that I can watch over and over again, which is a testament to its staying power.
That’s why I was appalled when, a few days ago, a “For Your Consideration” ad promoting Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland appeared. The poster touts the film as worthy of awards such as Best Picture, Best Actor (for Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter), and Best Supporting Actress (for Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts). It’s not like Disney needs more money, or even attention paid to the movie. It was a behemoth hit for the company. Audiences came out in droves to see it in its opening weekend. So why is Disney looking for an awards push?
Personally, I went into Burton’s Alice with big expectations. After all, the director is – or used to be – one of the most exciting and creative men in Hollywood. With the help of talent like Depp, Carter, and Anne Hathaway, how could one go wrong? Well, for one thing, Depp’s performance is uneven and disappointing. Take Jack Sparrow, give him a Scottish brogue and a feminine lisp, and bang, you have Depp’s Mad Hatter. Assuredly, Burton sought the audience’s sympathy for the Hatter, but Depp’s performance instead elicits annoyance.
The most glaring error in the new Alice was the 3D. Clearly, Disney executives saw how successful Avatar was in 3D and thought to themselves, “Hey, we can pump up the price of ticketing with this!” I was lucky to see it in a free preview screening, but had I paid extra for the 3D “effects,” I would have been majorly peeved. The most the audience sees of the third dimension is the poorly animated Cheshire Cat’s head popping out and the Hatter’s, well, hat flying out at them.
Another thing that caught my eye was the inclusion of “Best Original Song” for Avril Lavigne’s “Alice.” What kind of world do we live in where someone thinks that Avril Lavigne could be considered an Oscar-caliber songwriter? Sure, her “Alice” was by no means the worst part of the movie, but the song is shrill and melodramatic. That it might be considered in the same category as the brilliant and poignant “Falling Slowly” from Once makes me shake my head.
Finally, the bid for Best Film is a sadly misguided one. The plot is murky and befuddling. Underland? What is that nonsense? I still don’t understand what Burton was trying to do, but I do know that it didn’t work. The only redeeming thing about the movie was Carter’s Queen of Hearts. I appreciate the push for her as Best Supporting Actress. Her part is a hefty one, and Carter played it with a dual fiery disposition and childlike sense of amazement. Her moments on screen were the only ones in which I wasn’t actually hoping that I could throw myself down the nearest rabbit hole.