Turan review: Tim Burton’s ‘Wonderland’ falls flat in the end
“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” COUNTDOWN: 2 DAYS
Are you ready for a trip down the rabbit hole? Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Disney are adding a strange new chapter to the Lewis Carroll classic with their “Alice in Wonderland,” a film that presents a young woman who finds herself in the world of the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen. She is welcomed as a returning visitor — but is she, in fact, the same Alice who roamed the trippy realm as a child? Time will tell. Here at the Hero Complex, we’ve been counting down to the film’s release with a month of daily coverage. Today, we bring you the review by Kenneth Turan, senior film critic of the Los Angeles Times.
One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, and the pills Tim Burton gives you don’t do very much at all.
With apologies to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” that more or less sums up “Alice in Wonderland,” the director’s middling new version of the Lewis Carroll tale. It has its successful moments but it’s surprisingly inert overall, more like a Burton derivative than something he actually did himself.
Through no fault of its own, “Alice” also has the misfortune of being the first major 3-D release to come out after the “Avatar” revolution, and when you add in that Burton chose to shoot in 2-D and have the footage converted, it inevitably plays like one of the last gasps of the old-fashioned ways of doing things.
Especially old-school is the framing device devised by veteran Disney animation screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King“). In this version, Alice is introduced as a 6-year-old girl troubled by visions of falling down a hole and “seeing all these creatures,” episodes her kindly dad assures her are nothing but dreams.
Then it’s 13 years later and Alice is a pouty young woman (Australian actress Mia Wasikowska) headed for a posh garden party with her mother. Alice is a bit of a rebel (she doesn’t wear a corset!) and though she doesn’t know it, she’s on the way to what her family hopes will be her engagement party.
But once we meet Alice’s intended, a complete twit named Hamish, we know that marriage is not going to happen, and a good thing too, for this part of the film is so tedious we are all but begging for the escape the rabbit hole provides, especially because it serves as a portal to Burton’s inventive mind.
Alice is soon desperate to flee as well and, following the traditional white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), she hurtles down the hole and confronts a world of wonders where animals talk and even flowers speak their minds.
Given the strength of Burton’s imagination, it’s not surprising that many of these creatures are engaging, especially if, like that rabbit, they are voiced by top British actors.
The unsettling Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) is hard to forget, as are Absolem the Blue Caterpillar (Alan Rickman), Bayard the Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and fright legend Christopher Lee as the dread Jabberwocky.
Rather less satisfying is the script’s notion that the creatures spend much of their time bickering as to whether this Alice is the same person who came down the rabbit hole a decade earlier and, if she is, whether she has “lost her muchness” in the intervening years…
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– Kenneth Turan
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