Time: 108 mins.
Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Costume Design and Visual Effects.
SYNOPSIS: Alice (Mia Wasikowska), now 19 years old, returns to the whimsical world she first entered as a child and embarks on a journey to discover her true destiny.
BOTTOM LINE: While I love the visual stylings of Tim Burton – no one makes the screen come alive more vibrantly than he does – I can't say I've been emotionally entranced by any of his films in the last decade. He seems to revel in his dark side, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just not always very easy to connect to, especially when it's integrated with classic childrens stories. This is more of a "sequel" to the traditional Alice in Wonderland tale than an adaptation, since in this version Alice is all grown-up when she once again finds herself in Wonderland.
Though I'm familiar with the characters and basic premise of the original story, I've never read it – shocking I know – so I really had no preconceived notions of what should or shouldn't be happening here. As usual, everything about the look and feel of the world Burton has created immediately draws you in and takes you to another place. It's both beautiful and odd, the vibrant colors a treat for the eyes. Unfortunately, Alice, as played by Wasikowska, just doesn't have the same charisma and energy as the other creatures that populate the movie. As the title character, she's necessary to move the plot along, but she's like a faded flower next to everyone else, one that you hardly notice in a scene, which is problem since she's supposed to be the film's hero.
Granted she believes she's actually dreaming and not really "in" this strange place, so she fails to act because she thinks she's just going to wake up. This is all well and good for awhile, but it goes on too long and sucks the energy out of the story. By the time she's onboard with the plan to save all her new friends from the wrath of the Red Queen (Carter) and her evil henchman the Knave of Hearts (Glover), I was no longer interested in the outcome. Partly because it's clear how it's going to end the minute she falls into the tree. Sure, I can give them a bit of a pass, since this is a film that was made mostly for children; however, given that, it was more tedious than I expected. The pretty colors and talking animals should keep them entranced for a bit, but I can't see very many kids making it all the way to the end.
Burton's usual muses, Depp and Carter sure know how to tap into their own personal crazy and are quite perfect as The Mad Hatter and Red Queen. They bring these strange beings to life, making them more than merely cartoon characters, giving them real soul. Hathaway (as the White Queed) and Glover (as the Knave of Hearts) are pretty good as well, though neither can hold a candle to the antics of the leads. The visual effects, especially when it comes to all the talking animals and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle dumb are truly stupendous and incorporated seemlessly. I don't think live action and animation has ever been married together better than in this film. That said, it was the look that drew me in, but it wasn't enough to keep me entertained. Like most of Burton's work, it's a film that's worth watching once though, I fear, not one that will be long remembered.