A Tim Burton movie always begets an automatic string of mental images—surreal, dark yet forlornly beautiful to look at. Alice In Wonderland is all this, but alas, the story itself is far less fantastical than it looks. Burton’s re-interpretation is essentially a watered-down version of the classic tale, replacing its outlandish twists and turns with the all-too-familiar cookie-cutter plot of a young hero destined to save the world by slaying a particular nemesis with a particular magic weapon.
“Alice Returns To Wonderland” might have been a better title: A now 19-year-old Alice, in trying to escape the altar (and a most ungainly suitor), takes a tumble down the rabbit hole again. But adolescence has weathered her memory of the place, and the residents of Underland doubt her authenticity as the Alice who would slay the Red Queen’s Jabberwocky dragon and free the land from her evil reign. Save for the delightful, caustic antics of signature Wonderland creatures—namely the White Rabbit, the Tweedle brothers, Cheshire Cat and Dormouse—the predictable turn of events is more of a coming-of-age journey for Alice.
Mia Wasikowska injects respectable pluck into Alice, but pales in comparison to heavyweights like Helena Bonham Carter, who is deliciously tyrannical as the bulb-headed Red Queen, oozing both menace and idiocy every time she screeches “Off with their heads!” Johnny Depp is his usual kooky (and may we add, type-casted) self as the tangerine-haired Mad Hatter—all maniacal grins and loopy talk. But it is here that we see, for the first time since his unforgettable turn as Edward Scissorhands, the sort of man-child vulnerability projected by the likes of the late Michael Jackson, which tells us that the Mad Hatter is no loony, but a soul mired in sadness and loneliness, stuck in a world he doesn’t know how to escape from.
For all his love of everything bizarre and off-kilter, Burton fails to fully capture the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, but Alice In Wonderland is a reasonably enjoyable jaunt nevertheless—just don’t bother watching it in 3D.