Alice In Wonderland
Alice In Wonderland leaves much the same aftertaste as Avatar - gorgeous beyond belief, but lacking in soul with a threadbare plot and one-dimensional characters.
You do wonder why Tim Burton has never attempted the surreal Alice In Wonderland before now. It's perhaps because the creator of such eccentricities as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice has stalled with his own imagination, after a flaccid run in the 2000s.
So what of Burton's reimagining of Lewis Carroll's classic tales? Rest assured it's no Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Disney scribe Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) sets the action 10 years after Alice first fell down the rabbit hole. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska makes a gamine Alice, one who is not altogether happy about Victorian values, and appears to have inherited her late father's adventurous spirit. Convinced her previous encounter with Wonderland was just a dream, she is saved from a marriage of convenience by the reappearance of the White Rabbit, who leads her tumbling back to the now-titled Underland. She meets the wonderfully realised Cheshire Cat, an irritating Dormouse and surprisingly unfunny Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who take her to meet the high-as-a-kite caterpillar Absolem.
Alice's personal story is that she isn't convinced she is the "right Alice", destined to slay the dragon Jabberwock and overthrow the dastardly Red Queen. That is pretty much it. Making Alice a young woman could've been an ingenious move, but Wasikowska is given little more do to than looked puzzled at the thought of her fate. Bar an unconvincing delivery of the famous "curiouser and curiouser" line, this Alice appears pretty blasé about this stunning world she finds herself in, and spends most of it passively convinced it's just a dream - very uninvolving.
Luckily, we have a gleeful Helena Bonham Carter having a riot with her Red Queen. The effect of her ginormous head is disconcerting and tremendously well done, and while she is blatantly influenced by Miranda Richardon's demented depiction of Elizabeth I in Blackadder, Bonham Carter's depiction of an ugly character is not so grotesque as to hide the natural charm of the actress. Genuinely funny moments are unfortunately few and far between, and it's the Red Queen who provides them. Anne Hathaway's White Queen is far too affected, and while the impression is given there is a sinister edge to this airy fairy adored sister, the shocking make-up job on Hathaway is distracting.
As to be expected, it's up to Burton's muse Johnny Depp to hold everything together. His Mad Hatter is no twee bumbling idiot, but a volatile and disturbed character. Depp is the only actor on the screen who appears to have a grip on the source work, and if you can overcome some absurd slips into a Scottish brogue and a staggeringly embarrassing moment towards the end of the film (oh dear god, what was Burton thinking), he provides the only sense of danger amongst the Bandersnatches and Jabberwocks.
Where Burton has triumphed is, naturally, the production design. Underland would rival Pandora for beauty with its bright fauna and flora, and the attention to detail is admirable. In fact, Alice In Wonderland leaves much the same aftertaste as Avatar - gorgeous beyond belief, but lacking in soul with a threadbare plot and one-dimensional characters.