Alice in Wonderland is strangely normal

Mar 4, 2010
Rachel Helyer-Donaldson

Film of the week: the normally inventive Tim Burton’s adventure in 3D has gone topsy-turvy, says Variety

With its cutting-edge 3D technology and a starry cast that includes Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, the remake of the Lewis Carroll classic should have been the perfect vehicle for the wild imagination of director Tim Burton. But sometimes things are not all they seem, be it in Wonderland or Hollywood. Look past the looking-glass - or, in this case, the green screen - and the resulting movie is disappointingly conventional.

Admittedly Alice in Wonderland received positive reviews following its royal world premiere in London last week, with both the Guardian and the Times giving it four stars. The Hollywood Reporter also praised Burton's film, with reviewer Michael Rechtshaffen calling it "a subversively witty, brilliantly cast, whimsically appointed dazzler that also manages to hit all the emotionally satisfying marks".

But there is dissent in Wonderland, crucially in the form of film industry bible Variety. Its reviewer Todd McCarthy argues that, in the hands of the normally outlandish and adventurous Burton, Alice in Wonderland has been turned into something almost as conventional as that other high-profile 3D film, Avatar.

More than one reviewer has noted that the verdant world that Alice (winningly played by 19-year-old newcomer Mia Wasikowska) tumbles into resembles James Cameron's world of Pandora.

Burton's Alice has "moments of delight, humour and bedazzlement", writes McCarthy, but it "becomes more ordinary as it goes along". Burton even fails to work his usual magic on Carroll's famous garden party sequence and the 3D in that scene is "actually banal, even poorly judged".

But most disappointing for McCarthy is the fact that the film's narrative builds to a generic battle climax - seen so many times in films like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia as well as Avatar. "Thus does Alice become normalised, a tilt Burton is surprisingly incapable of opposing."

Tim Burton made his name in the mid-Nineties for creating psychologically complex characters such as Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood (both played by Depp) and placing them in his fantastical realms. But with this latest film he appears to have forgotten that, in the novels anyway, Wonderland springs from Alice's subconscious.

Ultimately the director has spurned his heroine's inner life and character development for the trappings of 3D technology.  Will he find his way back from behind the green screen?


Michael Rechtschaffen, the Hollywood Reporter: "Ultimately, it's the visual landscape that makes Alice's newest adventure so wondrous, as technology has finally been able to catch up with Burton's endlessly fertile imagination."

Todd McCarthy, Variety: "For all its clever design, beguiling creatures and witty actors, the picture feels far more conventional than it should; it's a Disney film illustrated by Burton, rather than a Burton film that happens to be released by Disney."

Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York: "[Alice is] basically lost on a Burton's Greatest Hits ride at Disney World, where even an ostensibly inventive character like the film's toothy, dematerialising Cheshire Cat feels like a weightless derivative of the director's more tangible past creations." (Verdict: 2/5)

Xan Brooks, the Guardian: "It is a glorious feast for the senses that fades away when the credits roll, leaving barely the trace of a hangover." (Verdict: 4/5)

Kate Muir, the Times: "The creepy fantasy landscapes and kooky costumes have gestated brilliantly on Burton¹s famous drawing board, but 3-D effects superimposed after filming seem unnecessary. The miraculous beasts and lurid tropical flowers could have come from Avatar." (Verdict: 4/5)

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