“Alice in Blunderland”
“Alice in Wonderland”
Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by Tim Burton
Conventional wisdom would dictate that a visionary director like Tim Burton, whose credits include 1988’s “Beetlejuice,” 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands” and 1996’s “Mars Attacks!,” would be the perfect fit for a special effects-laden update of Lewis Carroll’s fractured fairy tale “Alice in Wonderland.” In some ways, he already took a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole with 1993’s clever “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which he produced.
The problem is that Burton’s track record as a director has been uneven, and he’s been far more successful with films based on original stories than with those based on pre-existing material – especially remakes. While 1989’s “Batman” and 2007’s “Sweeney Todd” were huge critical and commercial successes, 2005’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was rather weak, while 2001’s “Planet of the Apes” was, well, the less said about that travesty, the better.
Unfortunately, Burton continues the trend with “Alice in Wonderland,” an ill-fated attempt to turn a trippy classic into a coming of age story. The screenplay, written by Linda Woolverton (1991’s “Beauty and the Beast,” 1994’s “The Lion King”), becomes more conventional as it progresses, and Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) never emerges as a particularly engaging character. Johnny Depp picks up the slack as the Mad Hatter, and Helena Bonham Carter practically steals the movie as the evil Red Queen, but “Alice in Wonderland” still ends up being a formulaic and less-than-wondrous cinematic experience.
Originally published in 1865 as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Carroll’s story has been adapted dozens of times for the stage and screen over the last century (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers turned it into an unforgettable music video back in the mid-80s). Burton’s version is more like a sequel than an update, since it depicts Alice as a confused 19-year-old who doesn’t seem to remember that she’s been down the rabbit hole before.
Upon her return, she finds Wonderland – or as it’s really called, Underland – in dire straights and under the ominous rule of the Red Queen. With the help of a colorful cast of characters, including the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the devious Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), the intelligent caterpillar Absolem (Alan Rickman), and, of course, the crazy Mad Hatter, Alice embraces her new identity and vows to restore order to the wonderful land she visited as a child.
The movie starts off reasonably faithful to its source, and anyone familiar with the original story will feel pleasantly nostalgic. And really, who won’t recall the tardy White Rabbit frantically looking at his watch, or Alice staring with bewilderment at the potion labeled “drink me?” But almost immediately after Alice passes through into Wonderland, which is practically a tribute to Dorothy’s entrance into Oz in “The Wizard of Oz,” the wondrous story deflates into a bland exercise.
On a visual level, “Alice in Wonderland” delivers the goods, but even those goods have been delivered before in big screen fantasies like “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and Burton’s own “Big Fish.” After those films, the fantastical ambiance depicted in “Wonderland” doesn’t feel all that special (even the 3-D treatment is underwhelming), and it’s just not vibrant enough to make up for a weak story that’s missing heart and soul.
It doesn’t help that Alice herself happens to be the least interesting character. Mia Wasikowska gives a flat performance, and the rest of the supporting players are not fully defined enough to keep them from sounding too much like each other. Johnny Depp, teaming up with Burton for the seventh time, is mildly amusing as the Mad Hatter, but only Helena Bonham Carter really stands out, thanks to her scene-stealing turn as the Red Queen.
This is the second time Disney released a version of “Alice in Wonderland” (the first was the animated classic back in 1951). Based on its budget, reported to be over $200 million, Disney has a lot riding on this one. But it’s more of a blunder than a wonder, and for a film that takes moviegoers far down the rabbit hole, the movie itself doesn’t go far enough.
Verdict: SKIP IT!