Tim Burton and Alice in Wonderland seems like a perfect match of material and maker. Lewis Carroll?s classic absurdist fantasy is just the kind of story a hallucinatory filmmaker like Burton could work wonders with. Or so you think.
Alice in Wonderland in 3D no less, is visually stunning but its nowhere as magical and delightful as you thought it was going to be.
To begin with, Burton creates his own Alice tale by sourcing material from Alice in Wonderland, its sequel Through the Looking Glass and Caroll?s poem Jabberwocky.
Here Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, is 19 years old. She?s a feisty young woman who refuses to conform to stuffy Victorian society. So she won?t wear a corset and when her family tries to force her into marriage with a snotty aristocrat, she prefers to follow the rabbit into a dark hole, where she of course meets Caroll?s wondrous and strange characters ? the mad hatter, played flamboyantly by Johnny Depp; the smiling Cheshire cat, voiced by Stephen Fry; the icily beautiful White Queen, played by Anne Hathaway; and my personal favorite, the petulant, narcissistic and deliciously infantile Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter.
In this bizarre dreamscape Alice must, find her muchness, as the mad hatter puts it, and slay the fearsome Jabberwocky.
The trouble with Burton?s reworking is that it?s too much of a retread of earlier films like the Narnia series or The Golden Compass. Wasikowska is lovely as the newly empowered Alice but she can?t undo the sense of d?j? vu that smothers the narrative.
The climactic battle with the CGI creature is singularly unimaginative. Despite some fantastic moments - Alice?s increasing and decreasing size is superbly done - Burton?s trademark whimsy seems more leaden than soaring. What does save the film however, is Burton?s construction of the Red Queen as a toddler in the throes of a world-class tantrum.
This is a woman with a small body and a giant head who uses animals as furniture and grandly exclaims: I love morning executions. The red queen is great fun. As is the deliciously mad Mad Hatter and Tweedledum and Tweedledee, twins with globe sized heads who are constantly bickering.
I recommend you watch Alice in Wonderland for all of this. It?s not terrific but it?s the most fun, you?ll have at the theater this week.