Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar, 108 minutes
Fantastic visual ride in Burton's weird take on "Alice in Wonderland"
Imagine you had an acid-trip dream that was filled with all sorts of CG talking animals and 3-D visuals. In a way, that describes Tim Burton's fantasy-world in the magically bizarre, CG-heavy but entertaining "Alice in Wonderland," the atypical director's revisionist take on Lewis Carroll's already unconventional fairy-tale. It's great but not wonderful but exactly what you'd expect from Burton. Emotionally distant, it may be too dark for kids, too strange for adults but enjoyable enough to please those looking for an escape from the real world.
Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is loosely based on two of Carroll’s novels, " " and "Through the Looking the Glass." It picks up with Alice as a 19-year old (boldly played by Australian actress Mia Wasikowska of HBO's "In Treatment" series) with strong feminist ideals yet still plagued by strange dreams. Just as she’s proposed to from a suitor she doesn’t care for, Alice is transported to "Underland" or Wonderland, as referred to by its inhabitants. She's actually been to Wonderland before 10 years earlier, but has almost entirely forgotten that experience.
She's meets a variety of interesting characters, led by the (Johnny Depp), who reveals she is the only one to slay the Jabberwock, a vicious dragon who is owned by the dreadful Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter),locked in a battle with her sister, the good White Queen (Anne Hathaway), over the crown to rule Wonderland.
"Alice in Wonderland" is an engaging, odd film filled with Burton's distinctively strange, florid touches. The heavy CG visuals, interestingly enough, work for and against the movie; the eccentric yet highly imaginative Burton expertly navigates the exciting visuals but his "expanded" story lacks emotional connection, particularly in a disjointed second act. It retains the spirit and some of the characters of Carroll’s stories, including the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), Hatter, the , the Caterpillar (a fun representation well-voiced by Alan Rickman), but literary purists expecting a faithful adaptation of Carroll's novels will not find it here, with considerable changes to the plot (that bizarre tea party is in place but without the White Rabbit’s exclamations of running late).
Intertwined with all the visuals is an eclectic cast, most of who perform well considering the effects are the real star here. Wasikowska is an enchanting Alice, providing a good anchor to the film, though Bonham Carter all but steals the movie, chewing on scenery every moment she’s on screen as the Red Queen with a grossly oversized head. As for Depp? He’s a typically odd fixture in a lesser performance that’s a little lost under all the heavy makeup, orange wig and green contacts. Hathaway is also a bit of a disappointment in a smaller part than you’d expect, with a very modest performance that is upstaged by everything around her.
"Alice in Wonderland" loses its footing midway through underneath some squabbling and babble about good and evil, and Burton unleashes lots of CGI merriment in the energetic but overdone climax designed to be the film's centerpiece (and really where the unnecessary 3-D is felt the most). Burton's idea was to expand Alice's adventures to make them more emotionally fulfilling, but that's the clear problem with the film, you get loads of stimulating visuals but won't get much out of the journey itself. Enjoyable enough, but Burton and Depp have done better.