Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland is truly disappointing, an effects-wizardry extravaganza with not much going on. There's so little character development that it's sometimes hard to care who is who or what is happening. I glanced at my cell phone for the time a lot during the second hour and that's pretty rare for me, but the display looked cool in IMAX 3-D.
Mia Wasikowska is picture-perfect as Alice Kingsleigh, now twenty, who as a child used to have strange dreams of what the audience knows is Wonderland, and a father, Charles (Marton Czokas), who would kindly remind her that she should never be afraid of dreams, after all, she could always just wake up. But at twenty, her father has died, and his trading company is in new hands. And Alice, a bit of a rebel, seems to be the only one in her circle who does not think of herself as in danger of looming spinsterhood.
There's an engaging, if a bit cartoonish beginning, as Alice travels with her mother to the home of her father's business partner, where some surprises are in store.
But Alice is distracted, she keeps seeing a white rabbit in a waistcoat flitting through the bushes, or gesturing at his pocketwatch. Nobody else seems to notice, even Aunt Imogene (Frances de la Tour), who's a bit touched. But at a crucial moment, Alice decides to follow the rabbit, who leads her (back?) to Wonderland, or Underland, or howsomever you say it.
This movie claims to be based on both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and it displays both a pretty impressive visual exposition of the stories and the sort of encyclopedic knowledge of them which can sometimes unfortunately lead film adaptations to be boring to those who do not possess such knowledge.
Characters and dialogue are given short shrift, there's very little humor which connects, but whatever monsters and talking animals seem to know what's going on. It feels rote and underimagined.
The way the story is presented also invites unfortunate comparisons to the superior second Narnia film, Prince Caspian, whose fantastic characters are as obtuse, but wonderfully explicated and exploited for their visual and character quirks in a way this film never seems to consider.
There are some excellent performances. Wasikowska is picture-perfect, as previously noted, though sometimes overwhelmed by the effects, which at times literally clash with her relatively calm and realistic take. Good voice work is often wasted on characters whose plotlines don't really pay off, especially most of the talking animals, and Johnny Depp is not very good, and doesn't seem to have much to do, as the Mad Hatter. Helena Bonham Carter is spot-on as the Red Queen, however, as she interrogates frogs or screams, "Off with their heads!" and Crispin Glover is pretty good as her minion, the Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway is not bad, and has some funny moments.
Unlike some effects movies I might see again just for the effects, even if the story is weak, this Alice really did not knock my socks off, and I would probably decline the chance to see it again, even free. It is neither Tim Burton nor Johnny Depp's greatest two hours. But it is a movie, with some decent performances and some striking visuals, so I've given it my slightest condemnation at two stars.
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