Alice in Wonderland — review

Adapted by Linda Woolverton, based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll.


Tim Burton infuriates me. In my review of Batman, I praised him for understanding the mythology’s characters more than anyone else. And in Batman Returns, I noted his artistic continuation of the themes often used in consideration for him being an auteur, while also remaining true to his vision of Batman. And successes like that make me like him as a filmmaker, which is why I was able to look past how I felt about Edward Scissorhands and go into Alice in Wonderland with an open mind. And just as Batman Returns was a development of BatmanAlice in Wonderland is a development on Edward Scissorhands, which I considered a novelty that overstays its welcome.

Alice in Wonderland was obviously going to appeal to Burton, because it’s everything he creates in his art: a world, cut-off from our own, where insanity is the norm. And yet – and this is something I can’t explain – Burton attempts to insert a logic into Wonderland. Rather than celebrating the idea of Wonderland as a dream-like world where anything is possible and nothing has to make sense (the kind of idea Burton evokes), he instead decides to explain everything about it. He creates a system of understanding how Wonderland can exist, and in doing so takes all the fun out of it. There’s a prophetic calendar predicting events that should immediately quell any doubt about how things will turn out, and the politics of Wonderland is laid-down to the audience like a rundown of the mythology before the main event is allowed to take place. Basically, he turns a beloved children’s book into The Lord of the Rings, even though they don’t fit together at all. The reason people hate The Matrix Revolutions is because, rather than the matrix turning-out to be a philosophical world about existentialism, it turns-out to be exactly what it claims to be, and is no longer interesting.

When Lewis Carroll created Wonderland, he did it as a form of escapism. When Tim Burton revisits Wonderland, he uses it as an opportunity to take his storytelling to the next level. Rather than simply showing us characters who live outside of society with their own idea of normal, he shows us a world where this already is true, and then attempts to define itself. But artists should never attempt to define themselves, because we love them for reasons they don’t understand. Just as he loves the characters he creates because he exists separately from them, we – or at least, I – love him because we have that same separation from him. He isn’t popular for the reason he thinks he is. And so, given the opportunity to use Wonderland as an introspective, internalised expression of the world in his head, to project his own meaning onto something that he didn’t realise was already perfect for him, he instead gives us what he thinks we’ll want, rather than what he enjoys making. As soon as you start thinking about the art, it loses value. That’s the whole point of everything he’s ever made; to not think about one’s existence, to just get on with it.

Instead, we get a place called Underland that literally exists under the world, with a written history and lore, and it works as more of an RPG than a fairytale. He names the Mad Hatter! Had this been an original work, inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, rather than being an adaptation, that world would have been interesting, because he’d have created it and been its master. He could have started a wonderful fantasy franchise about a world existing beneath our own where everything is skewed and stange. But rather than doing that, he distorts something that’s already there, which makes it something trying to be two things. It’s trying to be both an Alice in Wonderland, and an original fairy tale. Something cannot be new and old at the same time, that isn’t right.

Really, this is something that should have either been an original work, or just left alone. And yet – AND YET – a sequel’s due for release next. Still, could be worse. It could always be Zack Snyder.

Alice in Wonderland: wonderful franchise ruined by pretentiousness. 1/10