Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a wonderfully spun tale that delves deeper into the fantasy aspect of the story than any of its predecessors; however, the use of 3D is distracting at best and horrible at worst.
Screen Rant’s Paul Young reviews Alice in Wonderland
Let me start by saying that I’m a big fan of almost everything that involves Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Burton has a dark, almost “Poe” like story telling ability that I really enjoy – and I don’t think there is any actor alive today that can rival the ability Depp has in bringing a unique quality to each character he plays.
For this review first I’ll discuss the story of the film, and then I’ll address the use of 3D – and how it did or did not help the film.
For those that may not already know, this version of Alice in Wonderland is not the same as the animated story Disney produced in 1951, but it does use the same characters. In this version, we are introduced to Alice when she is only 6 and is having nightmares of a strange world filled with talking caterpillars, dodo birds and other strange beasts. Her father assures her it’s all just a dream.
Fast forward 14 years and little Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is all grown up and about to receive a marriage proposal from Hamish Ascot, who will eventually be Lord Ascot. That doesn’t matter to Alice, who is always daydreaming and wants more out of life than just status. The story takes a familiar twist at this point when Alice begins seeing a White Rabbit while walking through the garden with her future mother-in-law. Just as Hamish proposes to Alice in front of four or five dozen strangers, she gets distracted and takes off after the White Rabbit and inevitably falls down the rabbit hole.
After a visually interesting “Drink Me,” “Eat Me” scene, Alice is once again introduced to the world of Wonderland (or Underland as the Hatter tells us later). I say once again, because this is Alice’s second trip to the fantasy world although she has no recollection of it other than from her dreams. In Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Alice does meet the Red and White Queens but she is still a young child. What writer Linda Woolverton has done here is masterfully mix Carroll’s poems from both stories into an altogether different work of art.
After falling through the hole, Alice meets the Tweedle brothers, the Dormouse, and the White Rabbit, who take her to meet Hans Gruber the Blue Caterpillar. They have doubts that she is the “real” Alice and hope the hookah smoking insect can shed some light on the truth. Alice firmly believes she is in a dream and therefore can not be the Alice they are waiting for. Their Alice is supposed to defeat the Jabberwocky, the Red Queen’s champion, and bring about Frabjous Day.
One problem, the Red Queen, played by the beautiful Helena Bonham Carter, has attacked her sister the White Queen, played oddly by Anne Hathaway, and killed her husband the Red King and now has (W)Underland completely under her fearsome rule. In fact, our first encounter with the Red Queen involves a frog, some missing tarts and the familiar phrase, “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”
Carter is obviously having a lot of fun in her big-headed role and it shows. She’s compelling to watch the entire time she’s on screen but maybe that’s just because of her oversized noggin. The size of her head becomes a humorous center piece for a few sight gags later in the film.
With the defeat of her sister, the Red Queen now has the Vorpal Blade, the only sword that can kill the Jabberwocky, and has the deadly Bandersnatch guarding it. If Alice is to defeat the Jabberwocky she is going to need help. So our intrepid young heroine meets the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), who takes her to a loopy band of misfit warriors having tea in the middle of the woods. The Dormouse, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter are all sworn enemies of the Red Queen and friends of Alice and will do what is necessary to assist her in her journey.
I’ve got to address Depp’s performance as the Hatter. His ability to go from a sane, focus-driven Scotsman to an over-the-top, off his rocker hatter is fantastic. He steals every scene he is in including the final massive battle scene where he shows up wearing a kilt and brandishing a giant claymore. I’ve never thought of the Mad Hatter as a fighting type hero character but I certainly do now.
While assisting Alice, the Hatter gets captured by the Red Queen and her right hand man Stayne (Crispin Glover). I could be wrong but I think Burton may have used some stop-motion animation for Stayne’s body and imposed his regular sized head on it. The effect is beyond creepy to look at. Alice decides to help free her friend from the Red Queen’s castle, steal back the Vorpal Blade and escape to the White Queen’s new fortress. She manages all but the freeing of the Hatter, which I won’t spoil for you as far as how it happens.
All this leads up to the massive chess piece guards versus playing card guards with everyone getting in on the fighting action. Does Alice defeat the Jabberwocky? Will the Red Queen’s reign come to an end? Will Alice accept Hamish’s marriage proposal? You’ll need to watch the film to get the answer to those questions.
So after all that – was it any good?
A few things did bother me about the film. First, Danny Elfman’s score, while extremely dark and beautiful, felt rehashed. I could easily associate main parts of the soundtrack with other films he has scored and none of the songs particularly stuck out in my mind.
Secondly, anyone paying the extra money to watch Alice in Wonderland in 3D hoping to have a similar 3D experience as they did with Avatar will be sorely disappointed. While I didn’t love Avatar, I did find myself appreciating what Cameron had done with the finely planned out 3D filming process – as opposed to the path Burton choose of converting the film to 3D in post-production. There is a big difference in how it is used, and in my opinion tight frame, close-up head shots should never be shot in 3D. However, the large wide frame scenery shots look great.
Ultimately, the 3D fails to impress in Alice in Wonderland and certain 3D parts of the film, such as Alice falling down the rabbit hole, are completely unwatchable. The digital effects guys throw so much debris towards the audience and Burton films the scene so close up that everything blurs together in a mass of unintelligible imagery. I hope that other studios are taking note of this and realize that if they must make a 3D film, then it needs to be done during the shooting process and not done as an afterthought.
As a quick side note – during the Hatter’s Futterwacken Dance, I quickly recognized the limber leg skills of David “Elsewhere” Bernal. A young guy that became an internet phenomenon several years ago before the word “viral” was even associated with You Tube. You can check out his famous video HERE.
Overall, the story for Alice in Wonderland was great, and although it may be a tad too dark and Burton-esque for children under 9, it’s sure to impress fans of the fairytale genre. Alice in Wonderland the 3D experience, however, is not worth the extra money. If you want to go see this, I recommend you watch the regular old 2D version.