Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Mia Wasikowska
Directed by: Tim Burton
When it was first announced that Tim Burton planned to direct the latest adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, most moviegoers were rejoicing as it seemed to be a match made in heaven. Burton’s gothic outlook would likely be used to great effect, knowing too that he would inevitably bring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter into the mix.
Indeed what we expected with Burton’s version is what we’ve got. Though this is actually the main problem. The story focuses on 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) who is faced with the unhappy prospect of marrying a stuck-up lord of the manor. Then fate intervenes as Alice tumbles down a rabbit hole to find herself in Wonderland, a magical world waged in war between the merciless Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the peace-loving White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
There is no doubt the film is visually beautiful, from production design, costume and make-up and, of course, the CGI. Whether or not Carroll fans will enjoy the experience as much is debatable. With only cameo appearances from the Caterpillar and White Rabbit, there might be an air of disgruntlement.
Costume Designer Colleen Atwood does a predictably wonderful job with the costumes; they are dazzling; bringing the traditional Disney princess vibe back to life. So many lavish colours are employed, distinctly red = death for Red Queen and white = peace for White Queen. With all the various hues of blue and green, it is just awe-inspiring to look at.
Although a question mark still remains over the effectiveness of the 3D format, in Alice in Wonderland it worked surprisingly well. It was more immersive than Avatar; even some of the slightly gimmicky shots, like Alice disappearing down the rabbit hole. You felt as though you were in Wonderland itself.
Johnny Depp brings his usual weirdness and eccentricity to Mad Hatter. Fun, but there is a hint of Willy Wonka which is slightly distracting. Helena Bonham Carter is brilliant however, both cruel and funny at the same time; her Red Queen is hilariously pompous. The downside here is Anne Hathaway as White Queen. She has quite distracting movements within the character. You might wish you could strap her into a chair for the 110 minutes running time.
However it is Mia Wasikowska who holds Alice in Wonderland together. This is not a showy performance, it’s discreet. Not overreacting to every weird creature her character comes across, Wasikowska has a real calm presence that captivates the screen. Hopefully this is the start of a special career.
Though the film is enjoyable, you may not shake the feeling that this has all been done before by Burton: Imaginatively twisted oak trees, macabre sense of humour, those dark undertones about life-changing decisions – it is all there.
Even more disappointing is that the movie ends on a cliché battle sequence which undermines everything that has gone before. The director is going through his normal routine, yet this lacks the depth and gravity of his previous fantasy fare such as Edward Scissorhands (1990); Alice in Wonderland is all show and no emotion.
Enjoyable and certainly a visual treat (if not for the very young); this is, disappointingly, a missed opportunity for Tim Burton.
© 2010 – 2012, Ben McCarthy.