This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Travis McClain’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I was less than impressed when I saw Alice in Wonderland in 2011, but a pal of mine offered me her DVD when she upgraded to Blu-ray and I decided that at that price, I could afford to give it a second go. I did, after all, like Mia Wasikowska in the role of Alice, and some of the design work. Sometimes it's okay to appreciate a film for its superficial aesthetics instead of its narrative shortcomings.
The same problems I had the first time through are still there, and they seemed to bring out other deficiencies I hadn't previously caught. Just as a microcosm, take the tea party scene. Visually, it's bleak - which is part of the narrative, but it's also uninteresting to the eye. Normally, I'm a sucker for ruins; it's one of the things I really liked about Return to Oz and even The Lost World: Jurassic Park. But this tea party is simply uninteresting to look at, and that's a no-no.
Part of the problem is that the scene looks completely artificial. We can practically dissect the set (table) and its CGI background, with minimal studying. I had the same problem with this year's Oz, the Great and Powerful. The big key to heavy CGI is lighting, and the actors are rarely lit consistent with the rest of the frame. The worst offender, as can be seen in the tea party scene, is Crispin Glovery as Stayne. His costume is so reflective that it betrays the artificial light source created by the animators of all the digital effects around him.
The tipping point, though, is Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter. For one thing, the role is greatly expanded, elevating the Hatter to co-lead with Alice (or outright lead, if you defer to the billing Depp's agent scored for him). The narrative itself devolves into generic "epic fantasy action", and the Hatter personifies this skew of the story. Someone at Disney was too forceful about selling this film to young male viewers, and in the process overrode the whole appeal of Lewis Carroll's original story. I won't even get into the ick factor of the Hatter crushing on Alice.
I recently re-watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture and found myself admiring its sophistication, avoiding action in favor of conceptual exploration. Slogging through this Alice in Wonderland only bolsters my appreciation for Trek and movies like it. Truly, they are a dying breed when even the time-tested appeal of Lewis Carroll's beloved classic cannot be trusted to engage audiences without being grafted onto a generic Harry Potter/Narnia/Lord of the Rings through-story.
Even within the confines of the character as written, though, Depp's performance too often devolves into Braveheart parody, and is incongruous with the rest of this film. Yes, I get it: He's insaaa(jazz hands)aane, so it makes sense for him to speak differently at different times. It's a caricature of a caricature of mental instability, far beneath Depp's skill level. It's lazy.
And if this Hatter is such an action hero, why did anyone need Alice anyway? Because of a prophecy? Then there's the White Queen, whose vow prevents her from "harming any living creature", but apparently she's so divorced from cause and effect that she can lead and order others to commit acts of violence without accepting any responsibility. For such a high-minded, principled woman, she shows no compassion whatsoever toward the Red Queen in the end - which is especially disappointing, since the only two sympathetic characters in the entire film are Alice and the Red Queen.
I really wanted to like Alice in Wonderland, both times that I've seen it, but the truth is that I just don't. There are things that I like about it, but the numerous, egregious flaws dwarf them.
Alice in Wonderland Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#842/1591)
Alice in Wonderland < Igor --> #842
Neither is perfect, but I actually liked Igor. That's more than I can say for Alice in Wonderland.
Alice in Wonderland < Spider-Man 2 --> #1195
UGH. Both were disappointments, but since I care more about Alice than I care about Spidey, Spider-Man 2 was the lesser disappointment.
Alice in Wonderland > What Planet Are You From? --> #1195
Picking Alice in Wonderland here because of Mia Wasikowska's endearing performance.
Alice in Wonderland < Back to the Future, Part III --> #1295
Not a big fan of either, but I'd be more apt to re-watch Back to the Future, Part III.
Alice in Wonderland < Meshes of the Afternoon --> #1344
I'm not terribly big on avante garde film-making, but Meshes of the Afternoon was at least interesting and didn't feel overlong. That's more than I can say about Alice in Wonderland.
Alice in Wonderland > Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters --> #1344
Both were disappointments, but at least Alice in Wonderland features Mia Wasikowska.
Alice in Wonderland < The Chosen One --> #1357
How disappointing is Alice in Wonderland? So disappointing that I'm picking a Rob Schneider movie that even Rob Schneider fans haven't seen.
Alice in Wonderland < Kung Fu Panda --> #1362
Unlike a lot of others, I wasn't particularly wowed by Kung Fu Panda...but like a lot of others, I was even less impressed by Alice in Wonderland.
Alice in Wonderland > Secret Agent --> #1362
I have to struggle to find things I like about both of these. Secret Agent is fairly interesting, but I can't help being disappointed that Superman isn't actually in it. Toss-up goes to Alice in Wonderland this time.
Alice in Wonderland < Arthur (1981) --> #1364
This is an easy win for Arthur.
Alice in Wonderland was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #1364/1591