Thursday, 11 March 2010

Alice in not quite so Wonderland

A sunny day about three years ago I found myself in Belsize Park, an area of north-west London, when I saw ahead of me a familiar looking couple who might have dressed hurriedly in a charity shop.
It was film director Tim Burton and his partner Helena Bonham Carter. Burton was pushing a baby buggy and singing to its occupant. I assumed they might be heading home because I remembered they were said to live in the area.
My thoughts went back to that day at the close of Burton’s latest movie Alice in Wonderland in a crowded cinema last night.
My companion – a big Tim Burton fan – was disappointed, whereas I was better disposed towards the film while accepting that it was not the equal of the director’s best work – Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and the Batman outings.
The 3D effects, while not in the Avatar league, were competent. I’d like to see what Terry Gilliam would make of the technology.
Alice in Wonderland is one film where the sum of the parts isn’t greater than the whole. The detail excels but the overall production is weakened by some substantial shortcomings.
Mia Wasikowska as a 19-year-old Alice does little to breathe life into a thin script. She is never engaged intellectually with any of the characters. In the original, Lewis Carroll’s much younger Alice, in trying to unravel the puzzles and mad logic of Wonderland, creates much of the humour. My favourite Carroll character Humpty Dumpty – “when I use a word…it means just what I chose it to mean” – is absent from the film.
Burton turns again to box office-friendly chum Johnny Depp to play the Mad Hatter. Depp reminded the world he was a fine actor in his portrayal of John Dillinger in the movie Public Enemies in 2009. In Burton’s film he slips into Jack Sparrow/Sweeney Todd mode and relies too heavily on overacting and funny accents (when he is audible) to carry him through. His role could have been cut in half and Alice allowed more screen time.
And then there is Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen – who despite being given an oversized head manages to be both cruel and pathetic and outstanding. The humanity Burton brings to his movies which balances the surrealism is mostly absent in Alice in Wonderland. Save that is apart from Bonham Carter’s contribution and that of Matt Lucas as Tweedleedum and Tweedledee.
The star of movies as different as The Wings of the Dove and Fight Club was a brilliant Enid Blyton in the recently televised Enid. In her recent movies Bonham Carter has been either in tandem with Burton’s productions or taking the money by signing up to the Harry Potter and Terminator franchises.
Perhaps she doesn’t feel the need to accept the dramatic challenges that, say, Kate Winslett undertook in The Reader and Revolutionary Road. If so it would be a pity.


  1. Helena Bonham Carter's movie on Enid Blyton coincided with the publication of my book on the writer, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
    Stephen Isabirye

  2. Stephen,
    I hope your book does well. Like many of my generation here in the UK, I was brought up on the Secret Seven and the Famous Five. GC


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