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Alice in Wonderland is a film that. on the surface, would seem perfect for Tim Burton's sensibilities. Although the fact that Burton, known for his stunning sets, chose to film in an almost entirely green screen environment was an early warning sign that this would not please all his fans.


It's obvious that something has changed when Burton (who has always stressed the importance of an opening credits sequence setting the tone for a movie) chooses to start Alice right into the movie. The opening in Victorian London is competently handled and feels like a standard period costume film. The contrast with the arrival in Wonderland would have worked even better if these opening scenes had been in 2D. However, the journey down the rabbit hole is still an impressive sequence.

When Alice begins to meet all the familiar characters the film is at its most fun, even if many of the characters, such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee and Stayne (Crispin Glover's head stuck on a CG body) are embarrassingly fake-looking.

 In fact, as pretty as the visuals are, they all have an artificial quality that looks even worse in the 2D version of the film. Never before has Burton relied so much on CG, and it does his vision no favours. Luckily, the talented voice cast (which includes Michael Sheen as the white rabbit, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat and Alan Rickman as the caterpillar) help make the animal characters feel slightly more real.
The introduction of the Queen of Hearts, where she interrogates her toads to find out which one ate her tarts, is a hoot. The Mad Hatter, despite his prominence in the marketing, is introduced quite late in the film. The tea party scene, which should be the highlight of the film, is less memorable than in the original animated movie.

From here on the plot becomes even more predictable. The standard big battle at the end is without peril and Alice defeats the jabberwocky (voiced by the underused Christopher Lee) too quickly and easily. Alice does look very fetching in her armour, though.

All that's left is a girl power coda back in England and, the final insult, an Avril Lavigne over the end credits (why, Timmy, why?). Even more so than Planet of the Apes, this is an anti-septic adventure that ends just as it's getting interesting.
To sum up the good parts: the cast is effective - Mia Wasikowska (who threatens to lose both her clothes and the film's PG rating whenever she grows and shrinks) is fine if a little bland as Alice, though making her 19 is an odd choice that robs the tale of much of its childlike wonder.
Johnny Depp is just doing his shtick (including an accent that goes from lispy English to Scottish to God knows what) but has some good moments, such as when he quotes Lewis Carroll. Helena Bonham Carter has a lot more fun in her role than Anne Hathaway as her sister, and the supporting British cast is full of delightful actors (including Michael Gough in his last role).

Danny Elfman's score is lovely and the costumes are fun. Beyond that, there isn't much heart in the film. The remake/sequel idea reminds me most of Steven Spielberg's Hook, though Alice isn't quite as sappy and misguided. It's just depressing to see such an idiosyncratic director make such a bland, dare I say "Disneyfied" movie. And the less said about the Hatter's (long-awaited) futterwack dance the better.

Despite these qualms, which were shared by many critics, the film rode the post-Avatar 3D wave to over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, proving once again that Burton knows how to please audiences (and Hot Topic investors).

Continuing his streak of unoriginal movies, Burton would next turn to a classic TV show adaptation and a remake of one of his own movies.






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