I am an unadulterated Tim Burton fan. I've enjoyed most of his movies with a few glaring exceptions (Planet of the Apes, Willy Wonka, etc.) and when I heard he was tackling Alice in Wonderland, I was incredibly excited. I've always loved the Alice mythos. I loved the books as a kid, I loved reading the books to my kids, and the animated Disney version is like crack to me. I can't begin to impress upon you how much I still love the animated Alice in Wonderland, I still quote it often, particularly every time someone mentions mustard. "Mustard?! Let's not be silly, but lemon, that's something else..."
And by the way, this will have a couple of potential spoilers in it. You've been warned.
And marrying one of my favorite mythos with one of my favorite filmmakers was a no-brainer. The movie began and I was transfixed. Sure, I thought the overt use of symbolism from Wonderland was a bit overt, but I swallowed it down wanting to love the movie and it worked. And when Alice fell down the rabbit hole, I had the chills.
I was incredibly concerned about what would happen once we got into Tim Burton's Wonderland. Wonderland has always been an incredibly silly place and I was worried that when it was married to Tim Burton's style it would be a little too much, but it never was. He restrained as much of himself as was necessary and provided an excellent live action take on Wonderland. But from the get go, we can tell that something is different in this Wonderland. Since Alice's last visit (which she has no recollection of) the Red Queen (played to hilarious effect by Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over Wonderland by force of the Jabberwocky and her awkwardly animated knave Stayne (played by Crispin Glover.) The land is covered in darkness and ash and a secret brotherhood of Wonderland denizens want to do something about it and their scroll foretold that they needed Alice to come back to slay the Jabberwocky with the Vorpal Blade.
Now, here is a minor complaint about the film... They tell you right then and there what's going to happen. Alice is going to slay the Jabberwocky with the Vorpal blade. And when it happens it isn't exactly a surprise. It's tremendous to watch, but pretty expected. But this wasn't a concern I had while watching the movie. I was through the looking glass as I watched, it wasn't until afterwards that this point jumped out at me as a bit sloppy.
As the film built toward that end, with Alice going through echoes of her paces from her first adventure in Wonderland, but this time on the run from the Red Queen, I was buying more and more into the drama and the world to the point where I was getting the chills every so often. When the Mad Hatter (played with a ridiculous and overbearing smattering of different accents by Johnny Depp) recited the poem about the Jabberwocky, I about lost it in a good way.
The first two thirds of the film worked magic for me.
And then Alice performs her deed and then something so unconscionable happened. A film I was ready to pronounce a 10 out of 10 suddenly turned into a 6. I was dragged kicking and screaming out of the film by a ridiculous dance number with a bit of hip-hop music and Johnny Depp's head spinning that looked even more fake than when Beetlejuice pulled that kind of stuff. It betrayed the tone of the film and I felt like I was exiled out into the cold. I had bought so completely into this epic story that was very much like Alice in Wonderland meets Lord of the Rings and during the denouement I was kicked in the gut with something killed all momentum in the film. It brought it to a terrifying and screeching halt. And it couldn't get me back.
Suddenly what came after didn't seem to matter.
So, I'm all for the first two thirds of the film, I thought they were tremendous and I enjoyed them immensely, but when you get to the dance number, you may as well leave since it throws you out of the movie anyway.
Maybe you won't feel that way now that you've had some forewarning. If I can do that little bit to help you enjoy the movie more, then I will have done my job.
So, Tim Burton, congratulations in making your best movie in a long time. And I'm sorry you had to stain it with that moment.
Bryan Young is the producer of Killer at Large and is the editor of the nerd news website Big Shiny Robot!
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