Alice In Wonderland - Cinema Review

'by the time I found myself watching a really obviously out-of-place final battle sequence... I had nearly lost all patience with Alice'

For all Tim Burton's enhanced and articulate visual smarts I have regularly found myself wondering if he really knows how to tell a story. There are obvious exceptions. Big Fish is a fantastic and sprawling narrative which Burton masters well. Sleepy Hollow too and Corpse Bride both weave coherent tales in a recognisably Burton-esque universe. But on the other side of the fence there are veritable disasters; Mars Attacks, Planet Of The Apes and, in my opinion, Sweeney Todd all established a visual style but meander and struggle to really grip their respective tales. Sadly, it is into this second group that Alice In Wonderland falls.

Burton has played with the tale and Carroll's other works to meet his own ends. In his world, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now 19 and being forced to adapt to the needs and wants of adulthood. Finding herself back in Wonderland, Alice struggles to remember her previous visit but is helped by The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) who believes she is the champion the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) needs to defeat her sister the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).

And so, while you can never accuse Burton of lacking vision, you can accuse him of lacking the real controlled smarts to bring that vision to fruition inside a satisfying narrative. Alice is not meant to be an easy watch - it is a challenging fable - but in Burton's hands it's a difficult watch for all of the wrong reasons. Time and again Burton introduces characters that aren't developed and Alice's journey through Wonderland becomes nothing more than a series of singular interactions more than anything else. She appears and meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee (both an underused Matt Lucas). Then Dormouse. Then March Hare. Then a dog whose name I didn't even catch. In introducing his cast Burton seems to forget to develop them - it doesn't matter that Alice is the centerpiece or that many of her companions are CGI creations - a character is a character except, in Burton's hands, many of them feel like they're not.

It doesn't help Burton that the cast playing this under developed group are disappointingly hit and miss. Even the normally reliable Depp seems to struggle with the material, endemic of the rest of the film's failings considering how well designed his character is. Who knows why his Mad Hatter flicks in and out of a Scottish accent (presumably Burton does) but the effect is jarring, much like the rest of the film. Bonham-Carter fares better as the Red Queen, throwing herself at the villainous monarch with a malicious abandon that manifests itself in carelessly flicked wrists and eminently quotable, throwaway shouts of 'off with his head!' Playing opposite her both Hathaway and underling Crispin Glover as Stayne have a thankless task and both are at best going through the motions. Newcomer Wasikowska is fine as Alice but lacks the real command and gravitas to pull the heroine through, aping the failures of her director.

By the time I found myself watching a really obviously out-of-place final battle sequence, which looked like it was ill-advisedly trying to emulate something from Lord Of The Rings, I'm sorry to say I had nearly lost all patience with Alice. It's not helped by some very gimmicky 3D which doesn't add anything to the piece and Burton criminally under uses some of his best talent (both Alan Rickman as Blue Caterpillar and Stephen Fry as Cheshire Cat are reduced to near cameos) as well as struggling to grasp control of his newly-adapted material. 3D aside Alice does look great and when Burton allows things to pot-boil slowly the film is threatening and engaging. Next time then, please can we have a little less time spent on developing backgrounds and making scenery and more time spent actually crafting a story Mr. Burton?

Look further...

'Alice becomes the ultimate Tim Burton protagonist, which is to say that she wanders through a meticulously-designed fantasyland doing very little, meeting fantastic characters much more interesting than she is' - MSN Movies (James Rocchi), 0/5


  1. Fantastically written review. You have intrigued me to watch this movie and form my own opinions--something I think a good reviewer should invoke in a reader.

    Maybe this is a film better left to stills and magazine art? The pictures are like candy and I want to jump into them, but the film does not sound worth the ticket price.


  2. Thanks for the comment Michelle - very nice words.

    I do subscribe to the view that you have to watch some bad films so you know a good one when it comes along. Having said that there is a major split on reviews for this (some 0*, some 5*!) so I wouldn't discourage you from seeing it from that point of view either - you may well find something you like in there because others obviously have.

  3. Great review, very disappointing to see this highly anticipated movie be such a dud.

    Another review you could put at the bottom is Caz's at

  4. Thanks for the link Castor - another good blog you've pointed me towards. Quote added.

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