This is a film that should have been left in 2D – it was not filmed with the special 3D cameras, and you could see that it was a 2D film coerced into 3D in parts with fuzzy background characters in certain scenes, and it hurt the visual beauty of a Tim Burton film, which is one of the main attractions. If it wasn’t for the fact that the story didn’t hold itself together very well (another aspect of a Burton film), I’d almost want to see it again in 2D just to see what it actually was supposed to look like.
The story is a cheat based on the title – this film is NOT Alice In Wonderland, i.e. an adaptation of the books; it is a sequel that incorporates aspects of the two original books. Alice (newcomer Mia Wasikowska, looking both like an adult Alice and and an archetypal Burton woman) is a Victorian woman being forced into a marriage who falls down a rabbit hole when the man proposes in front of everyone at a garden party. When she reaches the bottom, she discovers Underland (see what they did there?), which is Wonderland under the control of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter in excellent form as an over-the-top loon, with a digitally increased head). The inhabitants are happy to see Alice again because they believe that she is the realisation of the prophecy who will be their champion and return the place to its original state.
The story, written by Linda Woolverton, is silly in the right places but turns into a clichéd fantasy tale in the end, with big battles and Alice wearing armour and killing the Jabberwocky; it doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, feels too generic for such an absurdist narrative and seems a bit of a cop out. The compensatory factors are the actors and the wonderful production values of the scenery. Johnny Depp is great as the Mad Hatter (playing him as a schizophrenic with a perfect Glaswegian accent when he gets too mad); Crispin Glover is wonderfully creepy as an elongated Knave of Hearts, the Red Queen’s chief henchman; and there are great vocal performances from the likes of Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Christopher Lee as the Jabberwocky – in fact, there’s lot of English voice work (as I noted previously, with a Harry Potter Factor of 6).
Despite the 3D problem, the film does look well designed – Burton and Lewis Carroll are a match made in heaven, and the visual style is vibrant bright colours and odd shapes and strange concoctions. The Mad Hatter looks suitably odd, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) looks suitably ethereal, the Red Queen looks mad, her castle suitably demented, and the animals border on the Disneyesque but with the Burton feel, especially voiced by British voices such as Timothy Spall and Michael Sheen. The shift from the drabness of Victorian England to the dazzling, clashing colour of Underland is perfect, and the film works well when throwing the characters together and not worrying about the bothersome plot of fighting the Jabberwocky, as Burton paints his moving canvas with élan. However, the story must find resolution and the film leaves you unfulfilled.