Alice in Wonderland
Rated PG/109 min.
My dad took me to see Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, my first Tim Burton film, when I was eight years old. It gave me the biggest scare I’ve ever had in a movie theater, when a character named Large Marge tells Pee-Wee a ghost story that ends with her popping her eyes out. Instead of avoiding Burton films out of residual childhood fear, I eagerly sought out every movie he made and became a die-hard fan. That won’t change, despite his latest effort, which is a colossal letdown.
This re-telling and sequel to Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story stars Mia Wasikowska as a grown-up Alice who returns to the world beneath the rabbit hole after being forced to endure a public engagement to a man she has no interest in. Rather than confront her potential suitor at the altar, she makes a run for “Underland,” where the White Rabbit, the Mad Tea Party gang and a smoking caterpillar warn her about the villainous Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter).
Things get off to an unpromising start, with bookend scenes set in the real world that will make children and their parents antsy. It picks up once the special effects take over, with all of the fantasy creatures vividly realized; the visuals are terrific, especially in 3-D. But really, is that even a compliment anymore? Nowadays, special effects are almost always strong, even in bad movies like this one.
A key problem is Wasakowska. Burton must have liked her look, but her robotic performance, in which she recites each line with the exact same inflection, drags down everything around her.
Inevitably, Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter. He’s predictably offbeat and always interesting to watch, but his character and performance lack focus, as though the role was still in the workshop phase. More often than not, Depp lets the elaborate make-up do his acting for him.
In addition to Bonham Carter’s obnoxious turn as the Queen, Crispin Glover has been cast as her sinister squeeze. It’s a shame how Depp and Glover, two of our most original American actors, share scenes together but have nothing interesting to do. The CGI characters are fun to watch, especially the March Hare, who has unruly table manners, but they get shortchanged by the rushed first hour. The best moments briefly bring to mind the superior Disney animated version from 1951, but the two films are miles apart.
Despite the fine technical work, this is never as funny or as exciting as it should be. Even with Burton’s expected touches—a portrayal of female empowerment, eerie but accessible surrealism, misfit monsters, a solid Danny Elfman score—the film feels, well, ordinary. In this case, that’s an unforgivable sin. – Barry Wurst, II, MauiTime