Disney, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and especially Linda Woolverton...YOU FAILED!

Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway
Rating: PG
Genre: Adventure / Family / Fantasy

Charles Dodgson once said, “Be sure the safest rule is that we should not dare to live in any scene in which we dare not die.” Today I broke that rule when I decided to enter the movie theater in order to see a movie I have been foaming at the mouth to view since I first heard of its release in October of 2008; on this very day, March 6, 2010, more than two years later, I watched Tim Burton’s newest nightmare: Alice in Wonderland. If I were to have died sitting next to my wife during the 1 and 3/4 hour catastrophe, I would have been ashamed, therefore violating the prior stated rule–Charles Dodgson’s rule: AKA Lewis Carroll’s rule. In fact, I was so ashamed of the remake, I was embarrassed for Carroll and for all the people who even have their names subscribed to the work. In fact, I hope it goes the way of the Spider-Man series and gets completely remade, only a few years later; Disney, Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and especially Linda Woolverton…YOU FAILED!

The movie starts with a little girl who discusses her dreams of a land filled with whimsical fantasy, nonsense, and madness (yes, the real Wonderland). These lines, I would assume, were meant to get the audience to start becoming excited to visit Carroll’s dreamland, but soon after the scene ends and jumps to where the movie truly begins–in the back of a carriage as an adult Alice is being brought to a large engagement party–her own engagement party. Alice gets to the party and introduces the audience to characters who are amazingly similar to characters in the story. Alice meets two almost twin sisters who provide minimal comic relief and try and complete each others’ sentences (they would be the equivalent of Tweedledee and Tweedledum). And she also meets her supposedly soon to be mother-in-law: the equivalent of the Queen of Hearts. These characters were obnoxious at best, but I can say that I did enjoy the allusions they made to Carroll’s original text. The almost twins couldn’t keep a secret, and the almost mother-in-law and Alice made reference to painting the roses red after the mother-in-law was upset they were white.

In continuing with the film, Alice is told to meet Hamis, a disgusting son of a noble, at a gazebo. Alice is told by the Tweedle-like twins of his plan to ask for her hand. Eventually, after slow and boring interactions, Alice makes her way to the gazebo and Hamis proposes to her. With all eyes on her, Alice knows she is expected to say yes  but can’t seem to get the words out. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the White Rabbit in his signature coat with his watch and she runs after him, leaving Hamish and the crowd in awe. Alice then follows the rabbit and falls down the rabbit hole in order to find him.

After falling down the hole and landing in the room of doors, this movie finally seemed like the book, and I started to prematurely blubber in anticipation for the world I would see beyond the doors. Alice goes through her signature “Eat Me/Drink Me” scene and gets into the mystical Wonderland. (And this folks is the only scene where true Alice fans will enjoy the movie, because it is the only scene like the book.)

As I sat there rocking with anticipation, I was let down in a matter of seconds once I saw Burton’s drab backgrounds ungracefully grace the screen. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I was in Wonderland, I felt like I was in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but in fact I was in Underland<–Did you follow that? Anyway, Alice enters not knowing exactly where she is–although just a few moments before she was complaining to her mother of dreaming about Wonderland–and she meets, or should I say re-meets, the classic book characters we know and love: the White Rabbit, the Tweedles, the Flowers, the Door Mouse, and the Caterpillar. All of the characters looked pretty impressive, but then they start talking about Alice and a prophesy and the Jabberwocky, and that is where the movie almost lost me. While conversing, a huge fluffy, cuddly, cute, and amazingly FEROCIOUS? creature enters the scene destroying everything in its path. I was told it was the Frumious Bandersnatch–and that is where the movie lost me.

Now, I know I have been verbose until now, but this will be my last paragraph of boring synopsis. The movie takes Alice back to Wonderland–now called Underland–and pairs her with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and requires her to fight the Jabberwocky. If you have read the poem of the “Jabberwocky”, found in Carroll’s sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, then you will know the rest of the story. There are a couple of points that occurred through the rest of the movie that I could provide analysis for, but it’s more because I am a complete literature geek, and more of an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland geek, rather than a casual fan (so comment below if you want me to get into it*).

Anyway, as far as the acting goes, the characters: Mia Wasikowska (Alice), Johnny Depp (Hatter), and Anne Hathaway (White Queen) were anything but Wonderful (maybe I could say they were Underful?). They provided lackluster and boring performances. Mia Wasikowska was amazingly unconvincing as Alice (perhaps because Alice shouldn’t be a grown-up) and her Burton gray complexion didn’t help. The only thing Mad about Depp’s hatter was his horrendous makeup and orange hair. Other than that, he was quite normal–much to my dismay. Anne Hathaway had some weird Jack Sparrow thing going on with her arms throughout the whole story, and just didn’t have me convinced she could be a Noble Queen in a movie remake, let alone on a real chess board (as is the case in Carroll’s sequel: Through the Looking-Glass…).

Perhaps the only characters I can say I liked throughout the whole movie were Helena Bonham Carter’s queen and the Cheshire Cat. Carter had the perfect Queen of Hearts attitude and delivered her “Off with his head” line with authority. Her enlarged head made for quite the spectacle, and I loved her heart lipstick, very original. I also loved the Cheshire Cat. Although he looked remarkably like the Bandersnatch (evolutionary cousins maybe?), he held onto his eerie charm that Carroll created in his books and that Disney echoed in their 1951 release.

In all, you can see that I wasn’t impressed. But, you must remember this is coming from a writer who is not only an English teacher, but an Alice fanatic–so much so I have a half sleeve of the original book pictures tattooed up my right arm. With all of the problems I had with this movie, I will admit that I will still probably own it when it comes out on DVD. I will also  show it to my students after I teach the text, and I will buy plenty of its merchandise in order to plaster my classrooms with it. I guess when it comes down to it, although the storyline, screenplay, and acting sucked,  the characters (not the scenery) provide a good visual reference to think about WHEN READING THE BOOK. When Lewis Carroll wrote his sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland he was kind enough to title it something new so that his readers could expect something different; he titled it Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. As I am writing this, I sit here wishing that Woolverton would have had the courtesy to do the same so that I could have expected to see something different than the original masterpiece. Remember folks, the book is ALWAYS better than the movie; this is proof.

*(Fun Fact): I have to say this movie is the biggest let down of my life (as far as movies go, yes, even more so than Star Wars: Episode III). But, I would like to point out one piece of information to the casual viewer before you see the film: it was interesting to see that in the opening scenes Alice is indeed a little girl who is well cared for and loved by her father whose name happens to be Charles. Now for the colloquial fan this may mean nothing, but the fact is this: the real Alice Liddell, whom the story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written for, was loved by Lewis Carroll whose real name is Charles (just an interesting little tidbit). In fact, this may be the only good attribute that Woolverton included in her screenplay.

[xrr rating=4/10]

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Timm F

Timm is married with a beautiful wife who has a bun in the oven. He teaches high school English and enjoys children's television and golf a little more than he would like to admit.

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  • I have not seen the movie yet, though I am sure I will. Timm, I almost wanted to forbid you from seeing it! I just knew… The book always is better than the movie, so if you LOVE a piece of literature, be very wary to see Hollywood’s take on it. In the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Pearl go riding into the sunlight, escaping the harsh Puritanical society in which they live. There also is a funky subplot more akin to Miller’s The Crucible than Hawthorne’s TSL. As you said with the comment about not using the same title when it’s not the same piece, I am in complete agreement. Or maybe there should be a warning of the I-read-the-Spark-Notes-and-that-was-enough nature?

  • I’ll see it this week.. although I know I won’t like it. The trailer and overall preview of it just seemed to highlight: JOHNNY DEPP, JOHNNY DEPP, OMG JOHNNY DEPP! He’s doing stuff!! HAHAHAHA! … shut up. I want American McGee version of Alice on big screen, which they are in progress of filming I believe.

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