Alice in Wonderland
Walt Disney Pictures
Now Showing at: most major theaters, but limited screenings for 3-D and/or IMAX
Review by: Larry Thomas
Sometimes an actor and a director manage to create a really terrific working relationship that leads to many memorable films on their resumes. Film history is full of examples of such pairings—John Wayne and John Ford; Katharine Hepburn and George Cukor; Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese. In contemporary filmmaking circles the pairing that seems to excite fans more than any other is when Johnny Depp makes a new film with Tim Burton. In their half-dozen or so collaborations, they have managed to three excellent films—Sweeney Todd, Sleepy Hollow, and their best to date, Ed Wood.
Unfortunately, their latest effort Alice in Wonderland is quite a disappointment. More a sequel, since it takes place after Alice has been down the rabbit hole once, and is now returning when she’s nineteen, this Alice in Wonderland is a textbook case of too much style and not enough substance. Burton is an incredibly visual director, and the art director and set decorator should be automatic Oscar contenders next year, so the film is fascinating to look at. But it seems as if every new fantasy film tries hard to one-up the last hit fantasy film, which leads to maximum attention to visuals and minimum effort on script and characterization.
You no doubt know the story, so there’s no point in rehashing that. Many feel it’s an allegory about a young girl coping with her own psychiatric problems in order to find a way out. Her journey is to become her own person and put past problems behind her.
Mia Wasikowska seems rather bland in the title role, without investing much of a sense of awe or curiosity regarding her journey. Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter. With an orange fright wig, gap tooth, and strange contacts, he rather resembles Lauren Hutton decked out for a Halloween party. And it could have been any actor under the makeup. Burton’s muse Helena Bonham Carter is the Queen of Hearts and is fine in the role, although she does bellow the Queen’s signature line “Off with their heads!” several times too many. It was also nice to see the quirky Crispin Glover given some screen time as the Queen’s consort, the Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway is quite bizarre as the White Queen, and we never determine if she’s really a good queen, or just warped in a different direction.
The animated denizens of Underland, as it’s called in this version, are all there: the white rabbit, the march hare, the Cheshire cat, the caterpillar, and others, are voiced by some well-know thespians. Michael Gough, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman and Michael Sheen all do well, and the legendary Christopher Lee has a couple of lines as the dreaded Jabberwocky.
Alice in Wonderland was filmed in 2-D, then retrofitted via computer programs to turn it into 3-D, the same process that will be used for the upcoming Clash of the Titans. Some depth effects look better than others, but it still not top-shelf 3-D. And the digitally projected IMAX image seemed a bit dim on the screen. You can take your pick of formats as it’s being shown in 2-D, 3-D, and at the AMC Newport and Showcase Springdale, in 3-D IMAX. Is it worth the extra cost for all the bells-and-whistles? Maybe, if you’re a serious film fan or technology buff. However, if you’re taking a whole family, then maybe not. And that’s another thing you should know: even though the film is rated PG it’s really not for little kids. There’s scary and gory stuff that might be too frightening for them.