In order to understand what to expect from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” perhaps it is best to use an analogy.
Imagine that growing up, you have your favorite Uncle Tim who always tells you bedtime stories whenever he visits. You’ve always loved his fantastical stories of men with scissors for hands, mixed up holidays and quirky reinterpretations of favorite books.
So when he hears you are facing a big life transition (starting college/getting married/switching jobs/mid-life crisis), he makes a special visit just to tell you one more fable.
The result? “I’m not 11 any more, Uncle Tim.”
“Alice” never quite reaches its potential. It is slightly darker than a children’s film should be, but somehow a tad too cheerful, which gives it the feeling of a more mature coming-of-age story.
The first two-thirds of the movie are built up nicely. The predictability of the ending can be forgiven, but the execution cannot. The undertone of Tim Burton dwindles until it literally vanishes, making you wonder if someone else took over partway through. But perhaps that was his intention: to take you into his world and then back out of it.
It’s not just the directing that fades out. Mia Wasikowska starts out playing a very relatable Alice: quietly rebellious, but appropriately unsure. But all the growth her character should have achieved by the end seems merely scripted. It is clear enough why Burton chose her, but the level of strength and transformation she has shown in past performances is missing.
The detailed setting that Burton creates is wonderfully suited to a 3D landscape. Come next year’s award season, there are bound to be nominations for the visual aspect.
While having a wide selection of celebrities appear in the film sounded exciting, it mostly seems to be a marketing gimmick. Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat) and Alan Rickman (Absolem) do have incredible vocal talent, but there wasn’t room in the movie for them to truly flourish.
The standout performance is, perhaps, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. In fact, she plays such a powerful character that Anne Hathaway’s White Queen seems almost annoying in comparison. And Johnny Depp? He’s Johnny Depp in a Tim Burton movie, just with more distracting eye makeup than usual.
Overall, “Alice” is worth seeing. It is entertaining and worthwhile, but any expectations of what it will or should be are best left at the door. Taking the plunge through the looking glass with Alice’s sense of distant familiarity, there’s sure to be at least one aspect of the movie that is appealing.