In the Picture

Alice in Wonderland

Directed by Tim Burton

Rated PG

It’s hard to review a movie when everyone else just LOVES IT.

The friends who came to the cinema with me gave it FIVE STARS, several reviewers have gushed and used phrases like ‘memorably poignant’ and everyone thinks Johnny Depp’s just sublime as the Mad Hatter… and I am left wondering, was I watching the same movie?

I wanted to love this, and there are some wondrous elements in this film, but I was bitterly disappointed to find the witty banter, riddles and wordplay that were always hallmarks of Lewis Carroll’s books are non-existent in this film. But then, this isn’t actually Alice in Wonderland at all. This film is set when Alice (Australian Mia Wasikowska) is 19 and Wonderland is but a distant dream from her childhood. A sloppy plotline allows Alice to go back down the rabbit hole again but this time neither she nor the inhabitants of Wonderland are convinced she’s the Alice everyone is looking for to save Wonderland from the clutches of the evil and bulbous-headed Red Queen.

One of the problems I had with this film is that the animated characters often outshine the real actors. The March Hare does crazed much more convincingly than Johnny Depp and the real star of the show is Stephen Fry’s sardonic and languid Cheshire Cat (although my favourite Cheshire Cat would have to be from Jasper Fford’s book The Eyre Affair, when an unfortunate boundary change means he’s known as the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat).

I wanted to like Our Mia but I found her ordinary in the extreme. Helena Bonham-Carter has fun as the Red Queen, hamming it up and not taking herself too seriously, but Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter felt forced.

There is no doubt this is visually spectacular – it’s Tim Burton after all – and particularly the scenes where Alice first enters Wonderland are beautiful, with gnarly, curly trees framed against a moonlit sky and a forest carpeted with enormous coloured mushrooms, talking flowers and fern fronds. In fact, the sets throughout the film are flawless, but it’s also peppered with strangely tacky effects, like purple lightning during the Red Queen’s overthrow of her younger sister the White Queen (Anne Hathaway). For me, the overall effect felt disjointed.

Admittedly this is a children’s movie, but the whole experience was shallow. Unlike Avatar, where you could forgive the bad dialogue and script for the truly extraordinary visuals and conservationist sentiment, Alice in Wonderland just feels soulless. There’s no deeper layer of meaning for adults here and the character development is limited – it’s all just good-looking fluff and bubble.

A fun, entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying journey down the rabbit hole.


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