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Alice and Wonderland: Tim Burton can't handle bright colors

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter
Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter
© AP Photo/Disney

I predicted that Alice and Wonderland would not be a favorite Tim Burton film of mine because of a theory that’s been fairly consistent: Tim Burton movies are only good when he avoids explosive color. Anytime he delves into lots of color in one of his movies, it tends to be terrible. In my opinion Mars Attacks! (1996), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1999) and now Alice and Wonderland (2010) were all pretty bad. Though I can stomach calling Alice at least mediocre—mostly because of Mia Wasikowska’s (Alice) performance—it could’ve been much better, like if Burton had stuck with his strengths: black, white, and red.

When you consider Burton’s track record for movies that mostly stick with black & white with some red, or at least muted colors like Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985), Beetle Juice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, producer) Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) you see a handful of great films which are all light on bright colors and usually heavy on the whole black and white (often striped) and red (often blood, especially in Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd) motif. Within these hues Burton seems comfortable and often excels. Yet whenever he explores unlimited color possibilities it’s like he suffers from some kind of director’s temporary insanity that makes him think things like his bizarre take on the oompa loompas, squirrels labeling Veruca Salt a bad nut, and Johnny Depp dancing a horribly weird CGIed dance called “futterwalkin” for no apparent reason are good ideas. It seems that whenever he gives himself free range to over-use bright colors, he takes his story-lines and directing in places he really shouldn’t go. Again, just a theory, but it seems strange to me that the only 3 movies of Burton that I find to range from bad to mediocre just happen to be in a pallet of colors he doesn’t normally touch.

I also felt Johnny Depp did not excel in this movie like he normally does. Besides the fact that he looked absolutely grotesque—(I’m tired of this trick Hollywood; it’s not appealing or entertaining. Yes he’s a great actor but he’s also attractive and there’s no reason to go so overboard on covering that up all the time) he was awkward in a bad—and not charming—way which was reminiscent of his performance in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and could’ve benefited from a little more Jack Sparrow.

But what do you think about my theory? Have you also noticed the causal link between colorful Burton movies and bad Burton movies? 


  • Joanna Bettelheim, Austin Literature Examiner 5 years ago

    I wrote about how the film compared to the books. I think one problem with this adaptation is that Burton was never much of a fan of the books or other adaptations. He has basically said he did this movie because everyone expected him to. That's no way to do something so popular.

  • Mary Lynn 5 years ago

    What do you have against oompa loompas? Do you have a complex about people of different origin?

  • Kelly Lindner 5 years ago

    I don't remember the oompa loompas being of different origin (and if I did that would not matter to me). I do remember them being short. I have nothing against short people as I am short myself but I just happened to prefer the oompa loompas in the 70s version of the movie. I had no idea that Burton was not fan of the books! That's too bad and might explain some of my issues with the movie. Though I thought the first 20 minutes were picturesque and executed very well! And that was the part that was similar to the original story.

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