Tim Burton’s Whimsical and Disappointing Underland, Sans Wonder

By Risa C’DeBaca

Director Tim Burton’s highly anticipated “Alice in Wonderland,” starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Mia Wasikowska, proves to be a kaleidoscope of visual imagery as expected, but still disappointed many fans of both Burton and Lewis Carroll. The film is an adaptation of both Lewis Carroll’s “Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” taking bits and pieces from both books, and adding in a new, unrelated back-story as well.

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Although Burton usually confuses his audiences with his remakes of classic films that were once novels, he seems to have turned a perfectly entertaining story into a mixed-up tale. The quirky and eccentric director played it safe by casting Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter as the scene stealers of the show.

Although “Adventures in Wonderland” contains the most well-known characters, such as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, and the Hookah-smoking Caterpillar, characters such as the White Witch, played by an overly dramatic Anne Hathaway, and the Jabberwocky, only appear in the lesser known “Through the Looking Glass.” This makes for a decent, but disappointing adventure for Alice in the film’s Underland.

The film starts with Alice (Wasikowska), who at 19 is much older than the seven-years-old that the novel states she is, expected to marry a suitor, she happens to loathe. However, she is distracted at her engagement party by the famous running White Rabbit.

Throughout the film, there is a combination of both of Carroll’s novels that puzzle the audience, but keep enough of the original characters to satisfy fans.

As the Mad Hatter, Johnny Depp was predictably superb. More often than not, Depp can undoubtedly turn a flat character into a masterpiece. However, it was Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen that was far more memorable. The Red Queen is a character from “Throught the Looking Glass,” but in the film she has a mix of characteristics of both the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts from “Adventures in Wonderland.”

When Alice’s Wonderland is revealed to be named Underland, not Wonderland, it highlights that the film literally left out the wonder and failed to impress and exceed expectations.


7 thoughts on “Tim Burton’s Whimsical and Disappointing Underland, Sans Wonder”

  1. The author writes: “Director Tim Burton’s highly anticipated ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Mia Wasikowska, proved to be a kaleidoscope of visual imagery as expected, but disappointed many fans of both Burton and Lewis Carroll. For starters, the word should be proves, as in proves to be a kaleiodoscope… etc. Active case. But what’s more egregious is the bald statement that a movie that opened at 11:00 a.m. across North America “disappointed many fans of both Burton and Lewis.”

    Gee, really? How is that even possible? Is the author a seer? Did the author take the pulse of the hemisphere to determine this? How does the author know that a movie that had 5 showings before she posted her weak and uninteresting review “disappointed” not only fans of Burton, but also Lewis? Did she call Lewis scholars in merry old England? Did she monitor moviegoers in every market? How did she differentiate between fans of Burton and fans of Lewis?

    On expects better and smarter from this newspaper, not unprovable factoids rooted in fantasy. It’s the same kind of bad reviewing in which a critic writes about a picture: “this is the best drama ever made.” Unless the critic has seen every dramatic movie ever made, a statement such as that simply cannot be made.

    The bottom line is that the movie disappointed the critic, although she writes mostly praise for two key players (Depp and Carter), which flies in the face of her alleged disappointment. Additionally, the review hasn’t much depth because it sure doesn’t tell us much about the feature, but sure does detail a list of characters from the two novels, which, needless to say, are not the movie, but the source material.

  2. Jason,

    First, I appreciate you taking the time to read my piece and comment on it. For starters, as you say, I never typed “proved.” From my very first draft I used “proves” in the first sentence. Both of my drafts have “proves,” so if it was edited differently, I can’t be in control of that. Regardless, “proves” is in the edited and displayed version above your comment, so I don’t know what you are talking about.

    Second, Alice In Wonderland opened at 12:00 a.m. (midnight) at both the Carousel Center and Shoppingtown Mall here in Syracuse. There are negative reviews and positive reviews on everything. While I was disappointed with the film, I still thought it was entertaining and enjoyed the performances of Depp and Carter. The reception of the audience after the movie was mixed, as it has been from what I have read all over the country and on streaming Twitter feeds. I was able to moniter this because I watched it until last night. When my husband tried to buy tickets earlier in the day, it was sold out. Between midnight and 10:00 p.m. the movie had already been seen by many.

    I am a fan of Burton and Lewis Carroll. No, I did not “call Lewis scholars in merry old England” or “take the pulse of the hemisphere to determine this.” This is a student opinion piece for an Entertainment blog, not a detailed movie review from an expert. My piece explained how the movie differed from a traditional remake of a film.

    Also, my “praising” of Carter and Depp hardly “flies in the face of my alleged disappointment.” In my opinion, the film would not be as popular and seen by as many without both of them. I know many people my age who are only seeing this film because they are Lewis Carroll fans, Tim Burton or Johnny Depp fans.

    Again, this is not simply a review on the movie or else I would have given a much longer description on the plot and characters. I wanted to give my opinion on Burton’s remake of Alice and if it worked being a mix of the Carroll novels with his own twist. If my job was to produce a simple and boring review of the movie, the editors would not allow this to be posted because it is not one. My first draft was much longer than this and would have been longer, but we have word count and space limits.

    “The bottom line” is that it is not simply a movie review, but an opinion/entertainment feature. I was disappointed in the film and it seems you were disappointed in my disappointment.

    -Risa C’DeBaca

  3. There’s way too much baloney and false posturing in the reply from the above critic. There is also so much that flies in the face of journalistic ethics and real-world actuality that the writer is suspect on every level.

    Her review was posted at 3:36 a.m. on March 6, the day after opening. She claims to have seen the midnight showing on the day of the opening (March 5). If the film, which is 108 minutes long, started at precisely midnight, it ended at 1:48 a.m. This means the critic had almost 24 hours to travel back home, poll the pulse of the entire world, read hundreds of blogs and websites, and, perhaps, still sleep, eat, and do who-knows-what-else, and then determine that a movie disappointed “many fans of Burton and Lewis Carroll.”

    After all of this, she found time to write a weak and uninspiring review. Really? Let’s start with how Ms. C’DeBaca started her own original commentary. How many of these so-called fans were disappointed? Is there a percentage? Is there proof? The film did gross a staggering, record-breaking $116-million in North America alone. Golly gee, the word-of-mouth must have been lethal. Using “many” is such a cheesy excuse for using real facts, and it’s also a writing cop-out.

    In her above rebuttal, the critic claims to have, oh I don’t know – sensed – the response of the audience at her showing. Did she actually interview members of the audience? How was their reaction determined by her? Were there negative vibrations in the air? Did people boo? Did she monitor conversations in the women’s rest room?

    The true bottom line is that a responsible and good and free-thinking movie critic does not give one whit about what the rest of the world thinks, feels, senses, believes, and cares about a movie, or what their hopes were. A good movie critic reviews a film from his/her own point-of-view. A strong movie critic, which the writer decidedly is not, brings his/her knowledge of film and the cinematic art form into play in what should be a well-worded, interesting commentary about a motion picture.

    The article in question tells us virtually nothing about Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland.” Her review is poorly written, useless as a guide, bereft of ideas, and offers little insight into characters or plot. Anyone reading the review, would have no idea how Burton interpreted Carroll, what the characters looked like, what the storyline was, and how the 3-D technology worked.

    Does the critic even know if the movie was shot in 3-D or shot in 2-D and then transferred to 3-D? Is that important? If so, why? Is there a beneficial comparison between it and the 3-D technology in “Avatar?” For the record, this “Alice In Wonderland” was shot in 2-D and transfered. What characters came across better than others in terms of acting? What about Burton’s decision to make Alice 19-years old?

    There’s very little, in fact, almost nothing in the movie review that merits calling it a review. Additionally, the writer claims it’s an entertainment piece. Well then, why the heck isn’t in entertaining, let alone informative? Or, dare I write, enlightening?

    The article as written is sludge. It wouldn’t pass muster in a high school newspaper. The author can’t write, and she can’t think in terms of cinema. She also can’t express ideas in terms of her own reaction, but relies on the tired and useless old canard about how the worldwide audience reacted. And we got that reaction because, rather than think about the movie and transport feelings and emotions into words, the writer allegedly spent most of 24-hours surfing the web and culling reactions, none of which can be confirmed as true unless they are from legitimate critics on legitimate websites. However, the writer cites no sources, but rather describes a general sense of ennui regarding the movie.

    Ms. C’DeBaca needs to go back to a basic writing class for style, a basic journalism course for content, and a basic film seminar for an understanding of the art form.

  4. Jason,

    First, let’s clarify a few things. You seemed to not have read my response carefully enough. Yes, there was a midnight showing on March 5th. My husband and I saw the film around 8 o’clock at night on March 5th. If you read my response over again, you’ll see that we tried to buy tickets in the afternoon, but it was sold out. We saw the movie that night, NOT midnight. You were obviously misunderstood.

    So no, I did not have “24 hours to travel back home, poll the entire pulse of the world, read hundreds of blogs and websites, and perhaps, still sleep, eat, and do who-knows-what-else.” Whatever you seem to be implying. I am a teacher at a local nursery school and full-time student, so I don’t appreciate your tone when you imply that I have an enormous amount of time on my hands to do “who-knows-what-else.”

    Second, it is Mrs. C’DeBaca, not Ms.

    Third, I was told by my editor to write from an unconventional perspective, not just a synopsis of a movie like you can read in plenty of other newspapers, magazines and online blogs/reviews. Again, we are given a word count and articles are often cut to fit online. I could also really care less that the movie grossed $116 million. Like I said before, I am continuing to read reviews and hear first-hand from viewers about their reasons for seeing the film. Johnny Depp was highly publicized in the promotional posters, but really wasn’t given that much screen time. So far, I can only think of four people that I know (friends, family, co-workers, students, etc…) that have not been disappointed with the film. These four people and those that were disappointed (that I know) come from New York, Texas, California, Nevada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, México, North Carolina, Washington, Florida, Colorado and probably a few more that I am forgetting.

    In response to the “questions” in your fourth paragraph:
    —No actual interviews.
    —After-movie reactions were determined by boos and comments.
    —As for “negative vibrations were in the air.” …are you kidding me?
    —Yes, there were boos.
    —Yes, I did monitor very loud conversations by teenagers and spoke with a mother in the restroom and outside of the theater.

    I never claimed nor did I expect to be regarded as a professional movie critic. My review is NOT poorly written and useless or else it would not have been posted. Yes, “the critic,” knows all about the 2D and 3D technology. I really didn’t care to write about that and wasn’t told to highlight it either. And I did cover “what characters came across better than others in terms of acting,” but you seemed to have missed that too.

    My article seems to be entertaining enough for you to spend the time to write pages and pages of insults against me. You wrote: “The article as written is sludge. It wouldn’t pass muster in a high school newspaper. The author can’t write, and she can’t think in terms of cinema.” Is that really necessary? If so, I hope you feel better because so far, you are the only one that has seemed to feel this strongely about it. Also, sorry, but I don’t have the time in my life to spend 24 hours to surf the web honey.

    There is such a thing as positive criticism, and you seem to just be looking for some sort of online battle that I don’t have time for. I’m not going to let some coward kid try to rudely criticize me or the way I write because he has nothing better to do. I’ve recieved many compliments for both of the articles I have written for the Student Voice Blog and honestly, you seem to just want to bring someone down to feel better about yourself.

    Have a nice Spring Break and buy yourself a drink will ya…
    If you can.


  5. Jason,
    I really think you need to back off. Or please offer some superior writing sample of yours that proves that everyone should bow down to you and your writing magnificence. (Before you criticize someone else’s grammar, you might want to check your shit: you wanted “present tense” not “active case” in your initial response. Just so you know. Verbs don’t have cases. Nouns do.)
    I find it rather sad that you have all this time in the world to criticize someone for writing. But if that’s how you make yourself feel better about the snobbish prick you seem to be, so be it.

    Also, maybe you should learn a little about reviews before you start harassing her about her “journalistic ethics.” Reviews are a whole different animal from normal journalism because they’re based entirely on your opinions.
    Also, sales have nothing to do with quality of the film–especially when it’s as highly anticipated as this one was.

    I do, however, agree that this wasn’t a very well done review.

    Reviews are not supposed to be long synopses. If your editors wanted more than that, which you deemed “unconventional,” I do suggest you take a look at some other reviews before tackling a similar project. Reviews should answer one simple question that your readers are asking: Did you like it? I couldn’t tell if you did or didn’t like this– you said it disappointed and failed to exceed expectations (which, sorry, what? maybe you meant it failed to meet expectations) but also praised it so much.
    The rest is supposed to be evidence of why you did or didn’t like it– yes, you did this, but you didn’t own your disappointment. Don’t worry about whether or not it disappointed audiences. Leave them out of it.

    Also, I did find it a tad cumbersome and difficult to read. In particular, “Although “Adventures in Wonderland” contains the most well-known characters, such as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, and the Hookah-smoking Caterpillar, characters such as the White Witch, played by an overly dramatic Anne Hathaway, and the Jabberwocky, only appear in the lesser known “Through the Looking Glass.””
    I had to read it a good 6 times before I actually understood what it meant. Met with such a convoluted sentence, most readers will just give up and stop reading. You had way to many ideas swimming around in one sentence, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, care about any of them because I just couldn’t understand it. I guess I would suggest that you focus on clarity and short, simple sentences.

    Both of you,
    STOP bickering! It’s childish, and there are so many better things to be doing with your time.

    Peace and cupcakes.

  6. To Cass – No one should pay attention to anything you write because in your reverie of a fascist planet, you condemn commenting – which you idiotically call complaining – yet, you yourself comment, a lovely example of having your cupcakes and eating them, too.

    And, as for that “peace and cupcakes” drivel with which you signed your ponderous discourse, all I can ask is this: Are you an actual adult, or just playing one off TV?

    To Risa – If you want to be called Mrs., then sign your work Mrs. The bottom line regarding that issue is that Ms. is the perfectly acceptable designation for women, an abbreviation created to move females away from the “MR” (mister) in MRS., thus liberating them from male identification. It’s useful – and quite acceptable – especially if the marital status of said woman is unknown. I’m sure that that after you do some studying about the history of movies and moviemaking, you can then take some courses in women’s studies.

    I think I’m most appalled by the fact that both of you may be associated with a great university. Ms. C’Debaca’s review and Cass’ anti-commenting comment indicate a serious dumbing down of critical analysis and interpretive thought. With anti-intellectualism this rampant, is it any wonder that the Teabaggers think they’ve got a chance?

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