Alice in Wonderland – Movie Review

As some of you may already know, I’m a fan of Tim Burton films. (See my list of top 5 Burton films here). His twisted sense of reality is something I’ve always been drawn to. Burton’s films always bring a style, like no other, even if the film is somewhat lackluster. Unfortunately, Burton has taken a lot of heat the past 10 or so years with many critics complaining that they think he’s ran out of “creative juice.” With that in mind I was not surprised to see Alice in Wonderland having an almost 50/50 split among the critics at Rotten Tomatoes. I purposely avoided reviews prior to viewing the film.

Plot synopsis from Netflix:
“A 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) journeys through Underland, where she experiences strange ordeals and encounters peculiar characters, including the vaporous Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) and the sadistic Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, Matt Lucas and Crispin Glover co-star in director Tim Burton’s bold adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic.”

2D or 3D?
I decided to see Alice in Wonderland it in 2D. It is one of those films that was shot in standard 2D then was converted to 3D in post production. unfortunately, there are many more like this to come. I’m not a big fan of 3D conversion. If a film was made in 3D (like the current 3D gold standard Avatar) them I’m fine with 3D. Otherwise I feel Hollywood is just trying to milk a few extra bucks out of the viewer by offering a sub par 3D experience at a costlier price.

Onto the review:
I read this quote over at imdb: “Despite the fact that there have been many other Alice in Wonderland films, Tim Burton has said he never felt an emotional connection to it and always thought it was a series of some girl wondering around from one crazy character to another… So with this, he attempted to create a framework, an emotional grounding, which he felt he never really had seen in any version before. Tim said that was the challenge for him – to make Alice feel like a story as opposed to a series of events.”

I’m sorry to say, he doesn’t quite pull it off. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy Alice in Wonderland, I just found to be missing true gravitas. In some ways this is a truly puzzling thing that a story like Alice which seems so right for a filmmaker like Burton to come across as kind of dull. In fact I’m still scratching my head because in some ways this is the most “normal” film Burton has made to date. It’s quite odd though because it’s probably full of more quirk and crazy then all of Burton’s films put together. Maybe it has something to do with the audience being the PG crowd, this film just feels way too safe. In many ways the peril just did not ever feel real to me.

I’m conflicted, because there is a lot to like and as I mentioned before I did enjoy the film. The cast is really great and Wonderland looks amazing. My favorite character was the Cheshire Cat who was perfect in looks, attitude and voice. There’s a great sense of fantasy and reality mixed in the effects, with a style that gives it a kind of retro stop-motion feel. I’m assuming that was a stylistic choice given Burton’s affinity for stop-motion animation and that four-time Oscar winner, visual effects guru, Ken Ralston was the visual effects supervisor.

So this bring me back to the debate about Burton running low on “creative juice.” Personally I think the creativity is still there, Alice has it in spades (pun intended.) I’d like to pose a counter theory that maybe he’s lost his edge with taking chances.

Bottom Line:
Looks great, lacks bite. Not Burton’s worst but Alice won’t be cracking my top 5 of his best films.

Rated PG: In theaters now.

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