In recent years, Tim Burton’s output of films has been both offbeat and refreshingly non-conformist. Films such as the supernatural comedy horror of Corpse Bride and his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cemented his reputation as a director who wasn’t afraid to go a bit crazy. Anybody would think, therefore, that an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would be the perfect vehicle for Burton’s skills.
We start the film with seven-year-old Alice waking from a nightmare in which she has fallen into another world full of talking animals, petulant despotic queens and mad men in crazy top hats. She is comforted by her father, who tells her that “all the best people are mad”, signalling an obsession with psychotherapy which runs throughout the film. We are then introduced to the grown-up Alice (Mia Wasikowska) who falls back down the rabbit hole in an attempt to escape an unwanted engagement. She appears to have forgotten everything about her original journeys in Wonderland, or Underland, as it is now known.
The mania of the original books becomes sidelined in favour of a more serious Wonderland in which the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) has taken control. It is up to Alice, the foretold saviour and destroyer of the Jabberwocky, to save the day and restore the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to the throne. The inclusion of Carroll’s famous poem The Jabberwocky gives Burton the chance to add a gothic element to this classic children’s tale, giving it a much-needed purpose. The battle between the armies of the Red and White Queens tries but fails to emulate profitable franchises like Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
The famous cast reads as a wish-list of British talent, with the voices of the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), Tweedledum/Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) and Absolem the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) allowing the audience to play a game of guess-the-voice. However, the acting of each character is convincing and engaging. The decision to make the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) simultaneously speak in posh English and gravelly Scots is at times distracting. However Johnny Depp’s performance has the right degree of madness with a touch of wistfulness that is at times heartbreaking. There are occasions where the film slightly loses track, mixing Victorian ideals with modern sentiments. A scene in which Alice tells her spinster Aunt (Frances de la Tour), “you’ll need to talk to someone about these delusions” is not only smug but completely at odds with the setting of the film.This much-hyped Disney offering appears to have been made to cash in on the recent trend of 3D films, and like recent blockbuster Avatar it has sacrificed plot for visual effects. Burton’s more inventive tendencies have been curbed leaving a successful Burton/Carroll collaboration an elusive concept.