Theatrical review: Alice In Wonderland

Or Underland, as it turns out.

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Certificate: PG
Director: Tim Burton
Screenwriters: Linda Woolverton
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter
Distributor: Disney
Running Time: 109 mins

Signing up to direct a pair of 3D films for Disney – this being the first fruit of this partnership – Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is not so much a re-imagining of Lewis Carroll’s original tales but an extension. However, as assured and visually stunning as it may be, it finds this most distinctive of filmmakers delivering his least personal film for some time.
It envisages Alice as a 19-year-old in Victorian England, struggling to find her place in a patriarchal society. About to be married off to the twitchy, snivelling Lord Hamish Ascot, Alice, who has been having recurring dreams filled with talking animals and other such ‘nonsense’, spies a white rabbit in a waistcoat and gives chase, tumbling down a rabbit hole and into the world of Underland (or Wonderland as she mistakenly used to call it). Here she must fulfil a prophecy and defeat a winged Jabberwocky to bring an end to the evil Red Queen’s reign.

From Alice’s initial arrival, all the ingredients from Carol’s originals are present, if modified slightly: an orange-haired Johnny Depp marks his seventh collaboration with Burton with an eccentric performance as the Mad Hatter, there’s the March Hare, the ‘evaporating’ Cheshire Cat, and Matt Lucas’s CG-enabled Tweedledum and Tweedledee double act, but what is missing is a sense of Burton. Alice certainly chimes with the series of outsider characters the director has made a career from, but his Underland tale lacks the darker sensibilities that have been pivotal in his most accomplished work. Indeed, the greenscreen/live action approach renders it a feast for the eyes, one that is sharpened by the 3D presentation, but the unsettling elements of Carroll’s and Burton’s imagination have been softened.

There are some great performances, though, Helena Bonham Carter especially as the bulbous-headed Red Queen, her court filled with servants that live in fear of her mood swings and animals employed as furniture. Mia Wasikowska, too, is a charming Alice, the young actress adept at conveying the character’s vulnerable side as well as her Jabberwocky-slaying strengths. But Burton and screenwriter Woolverton’s attempts to tell a story that is more than just a series of events achieve mixed results, the end product being an entertaining kids’ film, but one that never capitalises on the meeting of the two creative minds at its heart.

Wonderland interpreted for a new generation; it’s visually impressive, but lacks Burton’s personal touch.