Tim Burton’s new and improved, CGI-enhanced “Alice In Wonderland” opens with 19-year-old Alice thinking her previous Wonderland experiences only a disturbing dream.
About to be engaged to an obnoxious, wealthy lord that everyone expects her to marry, she again sees that infamous white rabbit. And down Alice tumbles, down, down back into Underland (she misheard the name during her first trip) where the world is turned upside down once again.
In Underland, Alice encounters the Mad Hatter and his companions who only want to see down with that “Bluddy Behg Hid,” the large-headed Red Queen. The worried residents of Underland who remain under the tyrannical rule of the ruthless queen consult the Oraculum, the Calendar of all the days of Ulnderland, which prophesize that on Frabjous day, Alice will slay the Jabberwocky and free the land from the oppression of the Red Queen.
And everyone will go home happy. That is, if Alice actually believes this isn’t all just another dream.
But because she believes it is just a dream – a weird, wild dream at that – she goes through the motions blithely, leaving the Hatter, the Cheshire cat, Absalom the caterpillar, and many other gallymoggers wondering and worrying if they lured the right Alice to their rescue.
The plot of Burton’s long-awaited visionary masterpiece is borrowed partially from the second tale by Lewis Carroll, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Through the Looking Class,” and partially from his and screenplay writer Linda Woolverton’s minds.
Lewis’s book revels in its bizarre environs, absurd dialogue and whimsical characters. Burton’s film grounds them, drains them of their original mystery and leaves us with a colorful but forgettable reread. While CGI has become standard for fairy-tales, I found myself missing Burton’s older visionary self, who created unique tales like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and poignant character studies like “Edward Scissorhands.”
In “Wonderland,” the CGI is near flawless, allowing the reds and whites to pop brilliantly but giving the landscape and characters a powdery, perfected look.
Aside from the visual aspect of the film, the cast list remains impressive. Helena Bonham Carter lent her hauntingly exceptional acting chops to the stoically eccentric Red Queen. Between cries of, “Off with his head!” and the moat of blood with floating, severed heads, Bonham’s performance as the bulbous-headed queen was probably the funniest.
Her sister, the good-hearted White Queen, who lives up to her name very well, is played by Anne Hathaway. Lending their vocal talents, Alan Rickman as the wise and almost Taoist, hookah-smoking caterpillar, and Stephen Fry as the helpful, guiding Cheshire Cat easily stole the scenes they appeared in.
The previews portrayed Johnny Depp as the star of the film, which would be unsurprising since this is Depp and Burton’s seventh collaboration. But Depp’s usually remarkable physical grace was missing here.
His portrayal as the Mad Hatter was indeed mad; however, his attempt at a Scottish accent resembled Jack Sparrow a little too much, and his pale-faced madness echoed his performance as Willy Wonka. He left me wanting much more.
The Hatter has a brotherly relationship with Alice, helping her discover herself along the way. Alice, portrayed by 20-year-old Mia Wasikowska, quite possibly upstaged Depp in her charming performance as Alice. While she did get a bit tiring in her refusal to accept that Underland was no dream, there was a fresh whimsical feel to the film with her in it.
This movie should have been more than eye-candy. With it’s simple plot and half-and-half acting talents, I found the film overall to be a touch flat and somewhat full of itself. The enchanted feel that should have been there, as It was in the splendid 1951 Disney classic, was lost amongst all the glimmer and glitz.
I prefer Burton at his best, with movies that attempt to engage the audience emotionally and thoughtfully, as did the beautiful character portrayal of “Ed Wood” and the hilarious, yet immensely clever “Beetlejuice.” Even “Big Fish” felt like a sincere effort at genuine story-telling.
This film, however, while amusing and fun in 3-D, seems to be geared more at engaging our wallets (it raked in over $10 million in its opening weekend) than our hearts. I sincerely hope that the beautiful collaboration of Burton and Depp has more to surprise us with in the future and that their best work isn’t behind them.
While “Wonderland” is worth the 3-D price to see its sharp animation and colorful design, I for one remain disenchanted.