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Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ falls flat

Maija Gustin | Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tim Burton’s new film “Alice in Wonderland” is not the “Alice” that fills your childhood memories. Thirteen years after the events in Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland” (and the Disney movie adaptation), Alice, played by newcomer Mia Wasikowska, returns to Underland, which she mistakenly called Wonderland on her last visit. Although she has dreamed of her visit to Underland since childhood, she thought it was merely that — a dream — and is convinced she is once again dreaming her fantastical surroundings.

But the inhabitants of Underland, many of whom are familiar from the animated film, remember her quite well and guide her through trials and tribulations so that she can fulfill her destiny and save Underland from the tyrannical rule of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). These characters include the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Absolem the caterpillar (Alan Rickman) and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

Burton brings his stunning vision to life in “Alice.” The scenery is lush and gorgeous, the costumes are bizarrely beautiful and the makeup perfectly emphasizes the zany features of each character. The CGI animation blends well with the live-action characters to create a totally immersive world. “Alice” can be viewed in 3D, and while Burton is less dedicated to creating an all-encompassing 3D experience than James Cameron was in “Avatar,” the dimensionality of “Alice” is still mesmerizing. Paying the extra $3 for 3D isn’t necessary, but it’s worth it.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t hold up to its stunning visuals. The acting is good all-around, but it could have just been so much better. Wasikowska seems perfectly cast as Alice, who, with age, has developed a bit of attitude, and has lost some of her doe-eyed naïveté.

However, her dialogue is dry and dull and it seems as if something is missing in the direction she was given. Her enormous potential is there on screen, but she is left as only that — an actress with staggering potential.

Depp was advertised as the main draw of “Alice.” While his eccentricity seems perfectly at home in the character of the Mad Hatter, he seems a tad too weird, even for a quirky Burton film. Although enjoyable to watch, he is at times difficult to believe. That being said, he is full of energy and lights up the screen.

Helena Bonham Carter, as the evil Red Queen, is the real highlight of the film. Her lines are mostly limited to “off with his/her head!” but she is both hilarious and vindictive, and her giant head merely adds to the character. She becomes the real star of the film.

In the smaller roles, Rickman’s voice fits perfectly to Absolem’s hookah-smoking caterpillar and Stephen Fry is hilarious as the Cheshire Cat. Hathaway is debatably creepier as the benevolent White Queen than Carter is as the Red Queen, but she takes her character a little too far, making her unbelievable.

Overall, it’s a good movie. Those who like Burton’s typical unconventional storytelling will probably feel right at home in his “Alice,” although it is definitely not designed for children bred on the Disney classic. Burton’s rendition is dark, twisted and scary.

All the elements for a great movie are there. Generally good acting, awesome visuals and an interesting story all work well on their own, but in this case, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. When put together, everything gets a little mashed up, and, at the end of the day, there is just something missing in “Alice.” It could have been great, even truly awesome. But, sadly, “Alice” just falls a little flat.