Could you think of a more perfect paring than director Tim Burton and Lewis Carroll’s classic heroine Alice? Disney has brought them together in easily the most-anticipated film of the spring, Alice in Wonderland which opens on Friday March 5th with an impressive cast and in glorious 3-D. Well hurry up, you’re already late for a very important date.
Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) finds herself in an unenviable situation. Bright and imaginative she’s bristling under the pressure of family obligations and expectation for her future. At a key moment during her surprise engagement party, Alice spies a curious and somewhat familiar sight of a white rabbit in a waistcoat. She delays her fate to pursue the rabbit. Her quest leads her to a sizable rabbit hole and you know what happens when a girl named Alice explores a rabbit hole – she falls in. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?
But Alice recognizes nothing familiar in these fantastic surroundings and its unusual inhabitants. She’s convinced she is in a dream, despite numerous attempts to awaken herself. And her dream quickly becomes a nightmare when The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) tells her she is destined to become the White Queen’s (Anne Hathaway) champion and to do battle with the dreaded Jabberwocky, ultimately bringing about the downfall of the horrible Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). It’s all too much for Alice. She must finally embrace her true self, face her fears and put the power of her imagination to the test.
There is a lot to like about this movie. Firstly, the visuals are sumptuous. If anyone could create the world of Underland it is Burton and his production design team. If the 3-D version is available in your area I highly recommend seeing it in this format. Secondly, the performances of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are great. Depp’s characterization of The Hatter is layered with sadness as well as madness. I have to add though that sometimes when he mumbles, especially in a Scottish brogue it’s next to impossible to understand him. And Helena gets to camp it up, just a little, as the irascible Red Queen. Additionally, the voice talents used for the animals is an array of Burton alums and great British talent, from Christopher Lee to Timothy Spall and Alan Rickman to Michael Sheen and Stephen Fry. I always enjoy trying to figure out who’s who.
Conversely, there are things that don’t work in this movie. The script relies too much on people having seen the 1951 Disney animated film or having read the books. Like Alice we stumble into Wonderland with no introductions to the characters, who then experience no real development other than what we already know about them. The story itself jumps from setpiece to setpiece with Alice riding some giant animal to get there. The end result is a bloodless and soulless film that looks very pretty but leaves you hollow. To me it was reminiscent of The Golden Compass (2007) in that respect. This leads me to suspect that there is a director’s cut out there in the world somewhere.
As I said, anticipation is pretty high for this film and it should have a decent opening weekend. But I fear the lack of heart to the story will make high box office in the weeks that follow an impossible task. That’s a disappointment when you consider it was the seemingly perfect combination of director and character. Sadly Alice has lost much of her “muchness”.