I’ve been waiting for this film for quite some time, as I know a lot of people have. I thought Tim Burton with all his quirky skill would be able to re-energise Carrol’s classic tale, freeing it from the twisted chains of non-conformist bizarro overtones that it had been given over the years by goth/emo/whatever stereotypes. It did that, and I’m glad that it did. The “she’s now all grown up and the world has changed” plot device does a brilliant job of both satisfying those who love the dark Wonderland or “Underland” that has arisen in the last 50 years while still reminding us of the simple innocence and whimsy of the original tales. I applaud the film for setting the record straight without having to upset anyone.

I just wish I hadn’t paid money for it.

It’s not that it’s actively bad, I was just staggeringly underwhelmed. Although this effect comes out of a thousand little things, there is one major point that stands out and it leads me to make this request:

Dear American producers, we know you have some very good actors, but please STOP CASTING THEM IN BRITISH ROLES.

I can understand Burton wanting to hang with his pals and Depp and Bonham Carter have pulled off characters from the isles before, haven’t they? I don’t know, I don’t care. The “Winning Combination” falls painfully flat here and I blame the Yanks.

Depp’s portrayal of the “Mad Hatter” seems more confused than anything else. He switches from some kind of delicate “pretend madness” to …scottish rebel? In such a way that he appears to be either on of the characters occasionally pretending to be the other, but one’s never sure which way round it is. A character who is mad ought to still be understandable as mad, by the audience, and if he’s not mad, we should be able to tell.

Bonham Carter is less annoying in her role as the Red Queen at least it’s possible to see what she was attempting to do with the role. However I think it was taken too far. In an attempt to explain the character’s flaws as childish ignored older siblish syndrome, Bonham Carter’s Queen becomes too abrupt, childish, there’s no sense of aristocracy in the role, just pure 5 year old tantrum.

The opposite can be said for her counterpart, Anne Hathaway, to whom I simply say this: Put your GODDAMN hands down. JESUS! When you play a ridiculous fairy godmother character like that, I keep expecting you to show some personality in a private moment or when under stress, but it never happens. Yes the character has taken a vow not to harm a living thing, but has she also taken a vow to never let her hands fall below her waist and to speak only like a twelve year old girl discussing unicorns? No! So stop pretending to be a fairy, and portray a role with some kind of credibility.

Fry. Thank all that is holy and good for Stephen Fry. I would have loved for your Cheshire Cat to have been the central character of this otherwise unimpressive spectacle, but alas it is not so and your beautiful voice and character appear only enough to stop me demanding my money back.
Similarly Alan Rickman performs his small role with trademark brilliance, but is so cursory as to have very little film redeeming power. But What of Crispin Glover and our own Australian Mia Wasikowska? unfortunately they fall under the film’s umbrella attribute of “a little bit nothing” while Crispin attempts his angry creepyness routine, it’s spoiled by the restraint the character seems to have to show. Mia however never quite becomes unrestrained enough, providing a main character that I don’t think I ever really saw and thus never really cared about. Matt Lucas was charming as tweedle dum and tweedle dee, but it would have been good to see at least one full slab of conversation between the two to show him off in the role.

The other thing that needs covering in any modern review is the computer graphical element tied with art direction. Now while I’ll admit that stylistically, this film is brilliant, it’s got that brilliant Burton shadow on it while still remaining true to the orignal Alice (and massive snaps for making the Jabberwock look just perfect) however it seems like there was some kind of CG budget shortage. CG is not cheap, but you’d think that producers would go “Burton knows what he’s doing, lets give him a few extra bucks to have a background in this shot”. Apparently not. Multiple scenes are presumed to be on a hill of some kind with nothing behind the foreground but the sky, and establishing shots, which should have been epic landscape reveals, only ever show the immediate area, as if to say “This isn’t a real place, it’s just a series of connected locations”. The result of course just another moment of the film where my suspension of disbeleif was ┬ájust blown out of the water. Furthermore, what was with the names of things? It’s the Red Queen’s castle, that person is the White Queen, this sign points to two places that we’re never going to see, why do I need to know the names of these things? Is it supposed to add cohesion to the terribly clashing worlds of Wonderland and Jabberwocky? It’s not working.

Jabberwocky is a poem told IN Wonderland, set somewhere even further away and longer ago, to give wonderland depth by giving it it’s own mythology. That is why when you combine elements from these two films it has the same effects as having elizabethans as side characters in a film set in present times. That kind of juxtaposition only works if you don’t try to hide it with cheap writing.

In closing, Alice in Wonderland is an often pretty film with some nice moments featuring animals that can talk with voices of actors I have good reason to like. It is set out in a well thought out world with lots of detail and and some interesting characters, it just fails to pull you into either because a few of small things like casting, writing and CG budget. I give it two out of five stars.


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