Starring: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by: Tim Burton (“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”)
Written by: Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King”)
Director Tim Burton’s visual sensibility is once again at the forefront of another dark spectacle full of big ideas but ultimately hollow at its core. This time it’s “Alice in Wonderland,” a beautifully-realized take on the popular 19th century Lewis Carroll tale, which has been remade numerous times in the past 100 years.
In the newest version, “Alice” takes the best of what Burton does and buries it under an incoherent narrative by animated film screenwriter Linda Woolverton (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”). It’s not so much that the magic or overall look has been squandered. The twisted tale of a Mad Hatter, a waist-coated white rabbit, and Cheshire Cat is quite stunning with the characters going through a computer-generated makeover. Burton’s version, however, must overcompensate on imagination when the sluggish story sucks all the adventure out of what could have been an epic reimaging of a beloved classic.
Fresh-face Australian actress Mia Wasikowska (“Defiance”) is entrusted with the role of the title character. In a sort of sequel to any of the preceding films, here Alice is actually returning to the fantasy world most people know from the trippy Disney film of 1951. In this adaptation, Alice is an unconventional 19-year-old who visits a place called Underland after she rejects a suitor who has asked for her hand in marriage.
Bothered by nightmares of her first journey down the rabbit hole (an event she hardly remembers), Alice stumbles yet again into a land where flowers talk, frogs are royal servants, and oversized facial features are signs power. Woolverton’s script even finds room for Carroll’s Jabberwocky, a monstrous character first introduced in his novel “Through the Looking Glass.”
Since her last visit, the vile and bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken over. Alice does her best impersonation of the kids from “The Chronicles of Narnia” to try to stop her and her loyal army. A prophetic scroll shown at the beginning of her second coming reveals Alice to be the one who will put an end to the queen’s reign. Most of the characters, however, think she is the “wrong Alice” and won’t be able to help.
Cast near-perfectly especially with Johnny Depp as the eccentric Mad Hatter, Crispin Glover as the sinister Knave of Hearts, and Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry lending their voices for the hooka-smoking Blue Caterpillar and the hypnotic Cheshire Cat respectively, “Alice” definitely transports us to the world we all new Burton could create. It’s unfortunate, however, that the digital enhancements outweigh a story that is more aware of its dreamlike marvels than before. Because Alice is older, that childlike sense of wonderment is absent. Woolverton (off with her head!) compounds the problem by fashioning a whimsical yet convoluted tale that often becomes dull and gaudy all at once.