If it wasn’t already official with 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it’s certainly official now. The Depp/Burton* combination has lost its edge. If there ever was one.
Saw Alice in Wonderland last night, and let me first say that I loved the opening fifteen minutes or so, starting with the concept of the recurring dream. Genius! I also dug the set-up: the nineteen-year-old Alice, the Cornwall setting, the arranged marriage predicament, the walk through the garden with the would-be mother in-law, the beckoning white rabbit. Alice’s anticipated tumble down the hole was awesome, and the opening part in Wonderland with the ‘Drink Me’ potion and ‘Eat Me’ cake was a blast. It was all a great nod to that classic story that we’ve always had somewhere in our consciousness.
Then Alice met the Mad Hatter, and the direction changed. If you can imagine the bastard son of Willy Wonka and Jack Sparrow dressed up as Bozo the Clown with a speech impediment, then you’ve got Depp’s version of the Mad Hatter.
Maybe it’s just because I hate hate HATED Depp’s version of Willy Wonka, but between the quirky laugh du jour, the excessive clown makeup, the regurgitated swaggering skedaddle thing, and the British accent tossed in for effect, I’m afraid Johnny Depp has become a parody of himself. Long known for being an actor who takes chances and pushes envelopes, it’s surprising and even embarrassing to see what he’s done in his last few stints with Burton. Seriously. When he made his entrance in Alice, within three seconds I was thinking, Really? Again? You didn’t! For a long moment there I thought I could feel entire theater getting embarrassed for him. I almost wanted to hide under my chair.
It’s time for Johnny Depp to step away from the Burton thing for a while. Maybe go do a psychological thriller or something. But only after taking a long, long, looooooooooong vacation.
As for the art direction of the 2010 Mad Hatter, why all the makeup? Why the orange eyebrows? Like Alice’s blue dress, the 2010 Hatter would’ve been better served as a nod to one of our favorite memories: the classic old white-haired Disneyish madman we already know and love. (Gary Oldman, maybe? Malcolm McDowell?) Depp just gets in the way.
As for Tim Burton, his “re-imaginings” are feeling less like re-imagined classics and more like rehashed versions of his own movies. All the adjectives that we’ve associated with his work — edgy, dark, unconventional, trippy, different — have gradually become antonyms to recent Burton/Depp projects. They’re canned, they’re templated, they’re indulgent, they’re self-serving, they’re like a wedding speech that’s gone in circles for way too long. It’s not different anymore. There is not a single thing different about a Tim Burton movie scene with Johnny Depp in white makeup in front of a backdrop of twisted branches silhouetted against the looming moon.
All that said, I’m calling it now: a Burton film about Charles Dickens starring Johnny Depp is the universe’s new inevitability.
*And don’t even get me started on Helena Bonham Carter.