Tuesday, March 16, 2010
ALICE IN DISNEYLAND: BURTON PLAYS IT SAFE
We all love Tim Burton. I know it, you know it and he knows it. The guy's a genius. The original Mad Hatter. And there's a moment in Disney's new watered-down take on Alice In Wonderland that reminds you: Tim Burton is an edgy character.
It happens when Ilosovic Stayn (Crispin Glover) crashes the Mad Hatter's tea party. Put out, Hatter's face darkens, and for a second, he looks scary and dangerous. It's an unsettling flash of brilliance.
Unlike Johnny Depp (currently working on Pirates of the Caribbean 17), Burton didn't exactly "sellout" to Disney, did he? Burton worked as an animator for Walt in the mid '80s. His 1993 hit The Nightmare Before Christmas was actually a Disney film. But, unlike Alice In Wonderland, it didn't act like one.
When I think back to films that stand out from my childhood, it's stuff like Watership Down, It and The Invisible Man. Films that I didn't completely understand. Films that scared me. Made me feel something. Forced me to believe something more mysterious was going on beneath the surface. But there's nothing going on beneath the surface in Burton's Alice In Wonderland. What you see is exactly what you get. And it's way too coherent.
Even the 1951 Disney cartoon version of Alice In Wonderland messes with your head more than Burton's awesome-to-look at yet resoundingly hollow, paint-by-numbers reimagining. It felt less safe, less certain and more out of its mind. More like the blazing, psychedelic acid trip of "literary nonsense" it was always meant to be.
Back then, you didn't know whose side Cheshire Cat was on. Was he good, bad or just some drugged out idiot playing mind games with Alice for the hell of it? I still remember how weird he made me feel. Stephen Fry's version's got more in common with Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots character. In other words, this Cheshire Cat fits into a nice, neat little box (on sale now at your local Disney Store).
I suppose Burton would argue that he and Helena Bonham Carter have got kids now and he wants to make a children's film. Fair enough. It's just a pity he picked Alice In Wonderland. Because a dark, true-to-life Burton version, as hinted at briefly by the Mad Hatter, could have been something quite special. Something much more memorable (and far less predictable) than "just another Disney flick."
Besides, I’d argue that Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish and Beetlejuice are much better children’s films. Sure, they’re edgy and dark, but they’re also strangely wholesome. And they pack that quirky, oddball flavour that, I feel, makes kids more interesting. More imaginative.
The scariest part is, Burton's just signed on for a full-length re-make of his 1984 Walt Disney short-film, Frankenweenie. Once they get their hooks in they don't let go. Just ask Johnny Depp, those Disney cheques are the real deal. Even Helena Bonham Carter's getting soft in her old age - first Harry Potter, now Disney.