Tim Burton’s part-live action, part-animated, all-3D version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a collage of characters and episodes from Lewis Carroll’s two nineteenth-century books about a girl who falls into the rabbit hole of her own imagination. But purists beware: Burton and his writer, Disney regularLinda Woolverton (‘The Lion King’), invent a quest narrative – Alice must slay the Jabberwocky! – that climaxes in a pedestrian battle for which Alice puts aside dresses and channels Joan of Arc. Moreover, our heroine’s loopy headtrip begins with her fleeing a very public marriage proposal with the twenty-first-century excuse, ‘I need a moment…’
This is a loose, enjoyable and safe spin on the books, with familiar characters doing familiar things within the altered – and digitised – framework of an older Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returning underground to find the Red Queen (a fun Helena Bonham Carter, actually playing a conflation of the Red Queen and the Queen of Hearts) ruling a depressed land.
The problem with this downtrodden version of Wonderland is that it doesn’t always sit well with the mania of Carroll’s creations, and when we see a brighter flashback of the Red Queen painting roses, we wish we were in that world. Imagine the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), the wise Caterpillar (voiced by Alan Rickman) and the Mad Hatter (an underwhelming, repetitive Johnny Depp) all doing their thing in the forests of ‘Avatar’s’ Pandora after a long bout of acid rain and you begin to get the picture. Much of the colour has been sucked out and replaced with dark skies and long faces.
Yet much of Carroll’s magical nonsense remains, even if Burton’s film wobbles at the gates of anarchy and ends up being a more average affair than many might expect. It’s also one in which the inventive costumes and individual flights of animated fancy end up being more memorable than the thin characters and half-hearted 3D rendering. As it’s Burton at the helm, you could call it gothic. The less generous might just call it gloomy.