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Movie Review - 'Alice in Wonderland' 

Alice in Wonderland

Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Mia Wasikowska
Directed by Tim Burton
Rated PG

aliceposter.jpg Perhaps it's the heavy expectations or perhaps it's just not that great, but Alice in Wonderland has about as much lasting impact as a late-innings home run by a team down by about a half-dozen runs. Yes, this is a very attractive movie to look at. The trouble comes when you actually watch it.

In defense of director/ringleader Tim Burton, there are certainly things this film does well, but it's also a collection of mostly minor miscalculations that really it at arm's length.

Let's address the expectations, because they're a little unfair but hard to ignore. There hasn't been a theatrically released Alice in Wonderland to come from Hollywood since this same studio - Disney - made the classic animated version, which probably has more mainstream recognition than Lewis Carroll's book. That film came out nearly 60 years ago, so as technology catches up to Carroll's imaginative creation, a new Alice in Wonderland movie has been talked about for some time.

There are also expectations because it's another Burton/Johnny Depp production, and they have quite a track record. And it's Burton's first 3-D movie (A Nightmare Before Christmas was converted many years later, and he didn't even direct that). So that's a lot to live up to.

And Disney probably deserves some credit for not begging its director to make the most palatable, family-friendly Alice you'll find. Instead of the standard story we've grown up with, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is not only older, she's called upon to be heroic. Not in the sense that the story is about her, either - Alice learns very early into her trip down the rabbit hole that she has to slay the evil jabberwocky to save Underland (as it's known to its residents) from the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).

The characters in this place are not very well drawn; they're contrasts of each other with very few colors in between. But there should be greater attention to their details beyond the costumes and makeup. Depp, in particular, seems adrift as The Mad Hatter, bouncing from one personality to another. Mad? Maybe. Schizophrenic? Definitely.

Bonham Carter fares best. What a fun role: She gets to play the meanest bitch and the world and call for the heads of anyone who angers her, which happens about once a scene. But between her evil and Alice's good, the other characters are really murky. Wasikowska is not brand new, but Alice in Wonderland is her first major role.

So much of this film, though, is not about performances but rather the visuals. If the 3-D functioned within the story in a more interesting or noticeable way, that might be enough to recommend it even with the shortcomings. But for as meticulously as each scene is designed, you don't need to wear glasses to get the full effect. But it's a gorgeous production, almost from beginning to end.

To redirect his story to provide Alice a more dramatic arc, Burton starts Wonderland with an uninspiring above-ground scenario that the young woman with her in the clouds has to contend with or run from. Naturally, she runs down the rabbit hole. But it's a long ten minutes to get there, to get us to the beginning of the tale we know by heart. And then it gets much darker than you remember. Burton combines elements from Carroll's Alice and Through the Looking Glass, which explains the jabberwocky as well as the bandersnatch and Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Alice in Wonderland definitely makes a huge effort, but it might be trying too hard. There's a lot to take in, which is fine, if it's all necessary. But it isn't. There are an awful lot of sprinkles on top of this donut.

Reader Comments (25)

"Yes, this is a very attractive movie to look at. The trouble comes when you actually watch it."

Pretty much sums up all Tim Burton for me... save a few standouts (The two Eds, BeatleJuice and maybe Batman) his work has always been take it or leave it and I tend to do the latter. I wasn't impressed by the trailers and will certainly be putting this one in the leave it pile.

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranybody

Mia Wasikowska, Matt Lucas, Johnny Depp, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen join in the cast of this new movie and what a fine movie appearance it made for us kids too can enjoy the tale of it and wow it was amazing stuff made at the end of the movie I used to see it and what a fine movie make rather for every one


Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNethra

you were generous with your apes Colin, I would have only given it 2. Yes, it's great to look at but, alas, it ain't a trip to a museum, it's a MOVIE. I don't think Hollywood has ever had such an amazing art director who is also, equally, inept as a storyteller. Tim Burton is that really hot chick in the bar who, when she opens her mouth, goes from a 10 to a 2 in 60 seconds. He never fails to dissapoint.

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterscott hopkins

I was between a two and three for a while, but I did think there was a novel attempt to do something different with the story.

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Registered CommenterGet The Big Picture

It's always the UNSUCCESSFUL WANNABE FILMMAKERS, that give bad reviews on SUCCESSFUL FILMMAKERS. Bite it!

BIG PICTURE??? YOU WISH YOU WERE BURTON, Not writing about him.

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteris cameron paying you???

Hahaha. You know how they say ignorance is bliss? Well it's also quite amusing to read...

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranybody

a good review, sounds like many many films I know

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNelson

I think Tim Burton is at his best when he is not "re-imagining". All too often lately he is doing exactly that ,though. Other than Big Fish (which I LOVED) I can't think of anything in the last decade that wasn't a remake of some kind (even Sleepy Hollow and Sweeny Todd were remakes). He's even remaking one of his own movies soon (Frankenweenie). Colin's right, they're all great to look at, but they seem to be missing something inside. Kinda like the donut that was referred to at the end of the review!

BTW, ignorance IS funny to read!

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

Oh, Corpse Bride was original too, right?

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

I'm guessing that I should skip out on the 3D showing of the film then? I'm OK with that actually, it washes out the colors far too much. Avatar is the only exception to the rule, since it used state-of-the-art technology, but if Alice looks as washed out and unnecessary in 3D as Up did last year, then I'm going to save myself a couple bucks and just watch a 2D version of the film.

Friday, March 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVince

Went to see this movie last night didnt want to see it i dont like any of burtons films and decided to give this one a chance.....i saw it in 3d and LOVED it definately one of my favorite movies ive seen this year has a great story and the actors are the right amount of creepy and caring....I would definately reccomend this movie especially in 3d its fantastic

Saturday, March 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlexxi

"is Cameron paying you" nobody talks to Colin like that. I just gave you a cyber punch to the face.

Saturday, March 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris

"is Cameron paying you" and "Nethra" are both trolls...not real people. Copied and pasted text that will undoubtedly be commented on any movie reviewers website that doesn't praise the film.

Colin you should be flattered that your site has enough pull to warrant the fake comments ;-)

Monday, March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmo

Good god, I did not enjoy this movie.. If you want a better reimagining/adult Alice, then find the game American McGee's Alice.. A thousand times better in terms of how the world was redone.. This was just mediocre at best.. Except act 3, that was just bad..

Thursday, March 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Was a great movie and take on an old film! Wanna see it again in 3-D!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Great movie, one of the best movies around this year. I am yet to see it in 3D. I found a website where you can watch movies online for free and watch alice and wonderland online for free. Check it!

Sunday, April 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWatch Movies Online

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Monday, April 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan C. Rivera

I think you saw a different film to me. It works at every level. Take a breath, wait for the publicity to die down, forget preconceptions of A in W and see and listen to what this film is about. And in 2D. Forget 3D. The only 3D film that ever worked was Kiss me Kate, when Ann Miller's legs where in my lap! Bliss!

Saturday, April 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Kavanagh

I was just wondering with the last words the Mad Hatter told Alice. After the riddle, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" and after The Mad Hatter said "I haven't the slightest idea." I lost the last words he said to Alice. Will someone be kind enough to tell me? Thank you very much!

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLin

I though the movie was so good. Johnny Depp did such an amazing job in the movie. I am such a big fan. I love to watch johnny in all the movies. He is one of the best.
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjames lee

very good

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