Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Director: Tim Burton 

Cast: Mia WasikowskaJohnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway. 
Plot: 19-year-old Alice returns to the magical world from her childhood adventure, where she reunites with her old friends and learns of her true destiny: to end the Red Queen's reign of terror.

Genre: Adventure/Fantasy/Family
Awards: Won 2 Oscars - Best Art Direction, Costume Design. Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Visual Effects.
Runtime: 108min
Rating: PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.




“I've been shrunk, stretched, scratched and stuffed into a teapot!

Tim Burton’s career in the last two decades can be summed up as a consistent series of peaks and valleys. His latest effort, Alice in Wonderland, a loose rethinking of the popular children’s book by Lewis Carroll is a significant dip in form. It represents one of Burton’s worst directing efforts since his remake of Planet of the Apes (2001).

From the high of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), a morbidly satisfying drama-musical centering on a vengeful barber who kills his customers for his wife’s meat pies, Burton falls flat with Alice in Wonderland, a film which tries too hard to impress viewers.

Its box-office takings seem to suggest otherwise though. Earning more than US$500 million worldwide thus far, Burton appears to have created a real winner. Admittedly there are some positives to the film and I shall highlight one of them – the visuals. They are excellent, and in 3-D format, viewers will be in for a treat.

Burton’s fantastical imageries come across as playful and gloomy. It’s like watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) except that the factory is located in Sleepy Hollow (1999). If there is something I admire about Burton, it is his consistent artistic vision no matter what the subject matter is. He is like Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 1985; The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, 2009) but has more than just a cult following.

Bear in mind that Alice in Wonderland is no Avatar (2009). James Cameron has raised the ceiling of 3-D technology to such a towering level that it allows us to take a forgiving stance towards his weak screenplay. Burton’s film, on the other hand, does not feature “Pandoraesque cinematography” and as a result its threadbare plot is embarrassingly obvious.

This is best explained by the inclusion of the final (and formulaic) battle sequence between the armies of the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the peace-loving White Queen (Anne Hathaway). The thrill-less battle has a foregone conclusion and the build-up is disappointing. It is as if Burton has run out of ideas, adding in an (anti)climatic sequence just to appease his fans.

Burton’s film is at times too dark and unsuitable for younger children (the film’s target audience) with images of decapitated heads floating in a moat and a blue talking caterpillar smoking heavily. But this is balanced by oddball characters created ‘just for laughs’ e.g. the Tweedle brothers and the Cheshire Cat.

Johnny Depp also plays the Mad Hatter, a weird cross between Sweeney Todd and Willy Wonka. It is not one of his best performances for a Burton film, but he just manages to hold his own against the scene-stealing Bonham Carter (and her bulbly head) who exudes a likeable but devilish persona which is more funny than scary.

Alice in Wonderland will probably gratify its intended target audience while most will just enjoy immersing themselves in Burton’s visuals. But there are some who will feel that they have seen (and experience) it all before. Just ask Dorothy Gale. Seriously, where is the magic?


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