Not much wonder in 'Wonderland'

Article Published: Mar. 11, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Not much wonder in 'Wonderland'

"@#%$ gophers!" Mia Wasikowska stars in Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland.'

Remember what the dormouse said: "Feed your head."

Director Tim Burton's interpretation of Alice in Wonderland is a feast for the eyes, but leaves the mind hungry for substance, something of which this style-rich film is strangely devoid.

With such iconic credits as Batman, Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood to his name, it's safe to say Burton revels in, as phrased in 1988's Beetlejuice, "the strange and unusual."

On the surface, Alice is chockfull of both. Dive deeper down the rabbit hole, and the rest falls flat.
A liberal medley of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass (And What Alice Found There)," Alice takes place years after our heroine's initial and best-known visit to Underland, which as a child she referred to as "Wonderland."

Now 19 years old, Alice (Mia Wasikowska, Defiance) lives as a contradiction to everything proper society imposes on her, in a world of wonder and curiosity, rather than structure and institution. She's a dreamer, more content pondering the impossible than, say, accepting the marriage proposal of the homely, but aristocratic, Hamish (Leo Bill, Gosford Park).

While attending a society party actually intended as her engagement party, Alice breaks free of the crowd to pursue a clothed white rabbit she's spied in the shrubbery, only to be led down the rabbit's hole and back to Underland.

The only catch is that Alice has dismissed her previous adventure as a dream, therefore believing her latest trip is also imaginary. So, fearing no harm, she goes along with it, along the way meeting the fretful white rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen, Frost/Nixon), the perpetually bewildered Tweedledee and Tweedledum (voiced by Matt Lucas, Astro Boy), the feisty Dormouse (voiced by Barbara Windsor, BBC's EastEnders) and the enigmatic Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman, Die Hard).

She soon learns something's rotten in Underland, that the cruel and axe-happy Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club) has deposed the benevolent White Queen (Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married) and is ruling the kingdom and its whimsical subjects through fear, intimidation and a constant threat of beheading.

Further, the Caterpillar reveals it's Alice's destiny to dethrone the Red Queen by defeating her beast most foul, the Jabberwocky.

Along the way, and while being pursued by the Red Queen's ruthless Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover, Back to the Future), Alice encounters some of Wonderland's more peculiar inhabitants, including the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry, V for Vendetta), Mad Hatter (voiced by Johnny Depp, Public Enemies) and March Hare (voiced by Paul Whitehouse, Corpse Bride), all of whom play instrumental roles in Alice's questionable fate.

Filmed in 3D, Alice is perfectly acceptable on your standard 2D screen, and Burton thankfully doesn't sacrifice story for gimmickry. But this live-action incarnation lacks the texture and, as odd as it sounds, plausibility of Disney's 1951 animated feature.

In the latter, an animated Alice interacts with Wonderland's animated denizens. It's an animated feature, so it works. Burton's live-action Alice interacts, for the most part, with run-of-the-mill computer-generated imagery.

In a film like Robert Zemeckis' Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, this would work, since human interaction with cartoons is part of the narrative. In Burton's Alice in Wonderland, not so much.

Alice interacts with extraordinary characters, who, despite their fantastical appearances, are meant to be tangible creatures. And these don't come close.

While detachment from reality is part of the story, this detachment from humanity works to Alice's detriment, rubbing off on its human characters and giving viewers little to care about. The setting, stylistically stunning in its own right, is the star, and the characters - despite solid performances from most involved - are more or less filler.

In that same vein, the film's thin storyline is stretched taut to the point of indifference, padded with tired devices and only a few laugh-out-loud moments, mostly courtesy of Bonham Carter.

Though amusing at times, the Mad Hatter is just another day at the office for Depp, nothing new, and a not-so instrumental character whose role seems to have been expanded to accommodate the star power attached.

On the other hand, Wasikowska brings a sad beauty to Alice, young at heart, but burdened with the impending responsibilities of adulthood, unsure how to balance both. She's a likeable character, certainly (and literally) the most human, but never developed to her full potential, leaving the audience somewhat detached.

For that matter, Burton seems somewhat detached in Alice, perhaps sacrificing vision for style.
Easily his weakest film since the Planet of the Apes "re-imagining," Alice relies too heavily on the Burton brand, confident it can succeed on this alone, when it should really take a look through the looking glass.

Alice in Wonderland, rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 (not in 3D) in Boone.

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