Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton is known for his surreal visuals and this film is no different. Alice in Wonderland’s greatest strength is the wonderful art direction and special effects. This is probably Burton's best looking film in years; even the minor details, such as the White Queen's soldiers having the heads of chess pieces, are a treat. If you exclude Stayne (Crispen Glover), who looks awkward in every scene he is in, it is tough to find fault with the outstanding visuals. The funny thing is, for a film that had such wonderful art direction, the 3D aspects were shockingly poor. I will not get on my usual soapbox about how 3D is a cash grab, as I have beating that horse to death. Regardless, I can easily see visual elements, like the seamless incorporation of the Cheshire Cat in many scenes, amazing audiences in either format.
Speaking of the Cheshire Cat, I thought Stephen Fry's voiceover work was near perfect. The same can also be said for Alan Rickman, who brings the Abosolom to life with a mystic charm. The interesting thing about Fry and Rickman's performances is how easily they steal scenes from the actors on screen. You know you have problems when the CGI characters are far more interesting than the human ones. Which brings me to one of the flaws with Alice in Wonderland; the film has too much talent and not enough use for them.
It is rare that you walk into a film starring Johnny Depp and walk away being more wowed by the supporting characters, like the aforementioned Fry and Rickman, yet that is exactly what happens here. While I liked the darker tone that Depp gave the Mad Hatter, his overall performance was surprisingly dull. I understand that Depp is trying to find a balance between exploring the root of Hatter’s madness and being the comic relief; but he often falls short on both parts. At times it felt like Johnny Depp was merely channeling the Scottish cousin of his Willy Wonka character from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The difference being that the Mad Hatter’s often mumbles large chunks of his dialogue. At first I thought I was merely burned out by the Depp/Burton pairing as this is the fourth straight film they have done together, and eighth film in total. Then I realized that even the new players to Tim Burton's world were not fairing much better.
Mia Wasikowska is a serviceable but ultimately forgettable Alice. Even when she final raises up and embraces her female independence, which the entire film is building towards, it does not carry the weight it should. We should be cheering Alice along her journey yet I found myself caring less about what happened to her as the film went along. I will say that Wasikowska was much better than Anne Hathaway, as she at least had things to do. Anne Hathaway, on the other hand, had to suffer through a painfully awkward performance as the White Queen. Hathaway serves no real purpose in the film other than to be the embodiment of good. Since the White Queen has sworn not to hurt a living thing, she is merely glides around all day with her dainty hands in the air. It is shame to see such a talented actress like Hathaway take on such a meaningless role.
The only on screen actor that really seems to fit the tone of the film is Helena Bonham Carter. As the Red Queen, Carter is a delight to watch in her small role. In a few short scenes she conveys a queen who is both ruthless and desperately in need of acceptance. If you take away Helena’s performance there is no other human character that really generates any interest. Alice’s family and friends are mere footnotes to the overall picture.
While the art direction, and a few key performances, keeps Alice in Wonderland afloat; the film, in the end, is much ado about nothing. Tim Burton’s version of the source material creates a beautiful but hollow world, which is probably why Alice found it so forgettable in the first place.