“Alice in Wonderland” holds true to the fascinatingly eerie vibe synonymous with the Tim Burton brand but leaves much to be desired in the realm of plot innovation. The film fast-forwards many years after Alice’s (played by newcomer Mia Wasikowska) initial visit to Wonderland, depicting a 19 year-old Alice who has forgotten her prior experiences. The subsequent journey ensues when she discovers her hidden destiny to take down the reign of the stifling Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter.
Although it excels as a visually engaging film, the story plods along a little too neatly, complete with a cookie-cutter ending. However, the enthralling animation of the film at large makes for a solidly entertaining experience at the very least.
Despite the hopes that Burton would put his off-beat personal stamp on the material, the progression of events leading up to the final battle scene is entirely conventional, remaining predictable up until its final moments. Although the opening sequences are engaging and original, once Alice enters Wonderland, each scene is more foreseeable than the last. In fact, the film falls nicely into the standard fantasy epic plot, which is simply unaaceptable for an adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland.” Maybe this more mainstream approach is to be expected since some of Burton’s recent films like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” try harder to reach to a wider audience with tacky jokes and characters that try to excel at self-conscious weirdness, but it is a disappointment nonetheless.
Its major redeeming quality is, as has long been expected from the colorful teaser images and trailers, its stunning visuals and special effects. Burton succeeds brilliantly at painting an astonishing Wonderland that is at once ominous and irresistibly intriguing. Much like Disney’s original animated film, “Alice in Wonderland” sets dark, foreboding tones around many of Alice’s new encounters. Especially when Alice first enters the rabbit hole, the looming doors and tattered walls cast a menacing environment that effectively looms over the miniscule Alice.
The skilled use of shadows and sinister clouds in contrast with the vibrant colors of the scenery throughout the entire film reflect the frightening effect that made the original such an absorbing portrayal of Lewis Carroll’s classic story. From the vivid costume design to the masterful depiction of the multi-colored Mad Hatter, played by Jonny Depp, this film steps up to the plate in film animation.
The state-of-the-art animation also allows for some reinvention of the classic Wonderland characters, which opens doors to some major differences. However, most of the traits that make certain characters—like the infamous Cheshire Cat—such distrustful personas are lost in this film. They seem to have toned down their trickery and traded it in for a more helpful, family-friendly approach to Alice’s strife. Wordplay and clever puns are still present, but the ever-cooperative actions of Alice’s companions do not match their tangled, devious verbal logic. The uncertainty surrounding Alice’s environment is thus lost, leading to a more comfortable depiction of her journey.
The generally bland dialogue is also a big disappointment. There is a fair share of laugh-out-loud moments, mostly delivered by the quick-witted Johnny Depp. However, for every clever joke there are more than a few clichéd lines. Alice’s cheesy monologue, describing the “six impossible things” that she has seen accomplished despite her disbelief (which culminates in the sixth declaration of “I can slay the Jabberwock!”) is perhaps one of the most painfully tacky moments. And to top it all off, that climactic battle scene is soon followed by an unbearably saccharine dance sequence that threatens to undermine the stylistic credit the film has earned up to that point.
Despite its various interpretive downsides, “Alice in Wonderland” does in fact provide much wonder in its stunning animation and design. Yet, it is a shame to see Burton try so hard to please the masses with a standard fantasy epic plot and sprinklings of cheesy dialogue. Compared to his off-beat earlier works, this film definitely lacks the artistic risk-taking that makes for a quality film. Much like the “Avatar” sensation that took the nation by storm but whose plot rang a little too close to that of Pocahontas, “Alice in Wonderland” works its magic with eye-popping animation but falls short of achieving any kind of substantive originality or psychological stimulation.