D: Tim Burton. W: Linda Woolverton. DP: Dariusz Wolski. Starring: Johnny Depp/Mia Wasikowska/Helena Bonham Carter/Anne Hathaway/Crispin Glover/Matt Lucas and the voice talents of: Michael Sheen/Alan Rickman/Christopher Lee/Paul Whitehouse/Barbara Windsor/Timothy Spall/Stephen Fry. (NOTE: Inspired & based on the Lewis Carroll classics Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.)
Coming off a strong and vibrant marketing campaign, veteran unique director Tim Burton falls head first down into Alice’s rabbit hole for his first 3D venture. But somewhere along the way he truly loses his way.
First of all, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland attempts a nice presence. Rather than merely adapting Carroll’s books (the first of which was made into an animated film by Disney in 1951), screenwriter Linda Woolverton brings Alice to life as a maturing young woman. Stuck in her hybrid feeling of girlhood/womanhood, Woolverton’s Alice (Mia Wasikowska) only remembers Wonderland as a dream or even a nightmare. Yet, now, on the day of her possible engagement she chases the same white rabbit into what is really termed Underland.
Lush and vibrant, the first half an hour of Burton’s film is engaging, reminding audiences of the classic books, that rusty old imagination that still clanks in their heads, and what shear curiosity can lead to. But, once down into Underland Burton’s ideas run amuck in a storyline that lacks any real depth or punch.
Upon arriving in Underland Wasikowska’s Alice runs into a sort of committee of characters, all debating on whether or not she was the real Alice who’d been there before. Problem is Wasikowska doesn’t know who her Alice is or who she wants Alice to be. She hardly ever looks as if she is really thinking or wondering where she is and throughout the film lacks any sort of conviction. What is remarkable and loved about Carroll’s invented Alice is that she is curious, tempestuous, and committed to what her imagination allowed her to see. Yet Burton’s casting choice merely glides and pouts (even flailing at moments) and will lose most audiences when “curious and curiouser” is finally said without a ping of palpable wonder.
However, Alice in Wonderland sports a Burton dream team, with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the violent Red Queen, a forgettable Anne Hathaway as the White Queen and a slew of great voices. The group is both established and committed, but somehow their performances come off more as play acting than true characterization. Depp is convoluted here, engaging at moments and then not understandable the next. His scenes are far too wordy in a story based so much on visual awe (although Colleen Atwood’s costumes are exquisite). Most children in the theaters began to and will squirm. Yet Depp’s performance illustrates the crux of the problem in the film, Burton forced his concept into a PG rating when he clearly hankered for a darker cinematic experience (or maybe a more adult version, got to love a smoking caterpillar).
This problem is also evident in the use of violence in the film. Although violence is a threat in Alice in Wonderland the characters appear so dream-like that audiences will hardly get a hint of menace or true trepidation. Bonham Carter’s Red Queen is obnoxious, petulant, and rash, yet after awhile she seems more silly than anything else. Somehow there is always a trick here in Underland as, of course, it’s a crazy place. But also a world where the history is never properly explained, Burton uses flashbacks, but not to his advantage. So although Wasikowska seems like she has a purpose, it’s not a fully realized one.
Lastly, Burton and Wolski’s mesh of live action and motion capture is surely innovative here, but a lot to take in when meshed with entire 3D sets. Sets that, when compared to the couple that were actually built tend to fall short. Frankly, 3D was probably not necessary here, oh Disney. But then again Alice does think it’s only a dream? Do you dream in 3D? I guess we’ll never know.
(End note: I neglected address this in my initial post of this review. But the fudderwacken dance that Depp is forced to performed, is deplorable. Unnecessary, stupid, and an embarrassment to the film, don’t be afraid to laugh out loud at your screening, believe me, we all did.)