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Tim Burton is heavy on visuals but light on story with 'Alice in Wonderland'

Tim Burton messes up with his latest film, a confused adaptation (or "extension") of Alice in Wonderland. It plays like a sequel to the infamous story, and sadly, the film has more in common with Steven Spielberg's lousy Peter Pan sequel, Hook, than Burton's best films.

That's not to say Alice is completely lousy. There are some pleasures to be had, especially if you catch a 3-D screening. Johnny Depp's bright-orange Mad Hatter eyebrows look like they will end up tickling your nose. But as for a coherent story, one never jumps off the screen, even with the funny glasses.

The film features a 19-year-old Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returning to Underland after falling through a rabbit hole during her engagement party. When she arrives, all of the familiar characters (Cheshire Cat, the Tweedles, Absolem the Caterpillar) are there, though she doesn't remember them (much like Robin Williams' befuddled, confused, grown-up Peter in Hook). She eventually winds up at another tea party, where the Mad Hatter has been waiting for her return.

What follows is some nonsense with the Hatter being taken prisoner by the Red Queen (played by ... SURPRISE! Burton's wife, Helena Bonham Carter). This all leads to an overblown battle finale with Alice squaring off against the Jabberwocky.

Much of the film looks good, but none of the performers manage to do anything to get the viewer involved in the story or the characters. Even Depp's characterization feels gimmicky and lacks an emotional core. I must confess: I'm not a fan of this visual conception of the Mad Hatter. He looks like the unholy, flamboyant bastard child of Carrot Top and Madonna.

As the title character, Wasikowska seems like she'd rather be sailing or something instead of working on Burton's film. Her Alice is strangely uninvolved, a sleepy onlooker unimpressed with all of the weird crap being cast upon her. She's like Kirsten Dunst in a shit mood on a five-day drinking binge. Anne Hathaway as the White Queen does little more than walk around like a posing doll.

I did, however, love Tweedledum and Tweedledee, an interesting part-live-action, part-CGI concoction featuring actor Matt Lucas. And casting Crispin Glover as Stayne, Knave of Hearts, was an inspired choice. Bayard, a big bloodhound whose heart is with Alice although he's employed by the enemy, is another decent creation, voiced by Timothy Spall.

While the film was always intended as a 3-D release, Burton made the conscious choice from the beginning to shoot in 2-D and convert to 3-D in postproduction. As a result, the 3-D visuals aren't as crisp and dazzling as those in Avatar, which was shot with 3-D cameras. The visuals are still playful, but just a little flatter in places.

In the end, Alice comes off as a series of sketchy ideas held together by a flimsy premise. And it must be said that Burton is starting to fall victim to his very own clichés. The familiar Danny Elfman soundtrack, the repeated casting of Depp and Bonham Carter, the kabuki makeup ... it's time to ditch some of that stuff and reboot.

I've disliked two big 3-D blockbusters in a row (I am not an Avatar fan). Don't take this as a condemnation of the 3-D format, because I love the new technology. I'm just hoping this is the end of skimping on story in favor of extra visual dimensions. While I like teacups soaring over my head, I'm still a sucker for a good story, and Alice doesn't have one.

Alice in Wonderland
Rated PG · 109 minutes · 2010
Official Site: disney.go.com/disneypictures/aliceinwonderland
Director: Tim Burton
Producer: Richard Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd, Chris Lebenzon and Peter Tobyansen
Cast: Johnny Depp, Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Barbara Windsor, Paul Whitehouse, Timothy Spall, Marton Csokas, Tim Pigott-Smith, Lindsay Duncan, Geraldine James, Leo Bill, Jemma Powell and Christopher Lee

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More by Bob Grimm

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What others are saying (8)

Colorado Springs Independent Opening this week Alice in Wonderland, Brooklyn's Finest, Creation and more. 03/04/2010
Memphis Flyer Alice Doesn't Live There Anymore Director Tim Burton forges a sequel to a kid-lit classic. by Hannah Sayle 03/05/2010
Indy Week Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland has flair to burn, but its heroine is a cipher Alice is a phantasmagorical fever dream that is both absorbing and banal, a looking glass that reflects Narnia, Middle-earth and assorted other child-escapist imaginaria in addition to its source text. by Neil Morris 03/04/2010
5 more reviews...
Boise Weekly First Quarter Film Stinkers A closer look at the numbers indicates that neither history nor logic can justify a box office model that packs 25 percent of its calendar with high-priced trash by George Prentice 03/23/2011
Portland Mercury Lost Down The Rabbit Hole Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland looks good, but lacks greatness. by Marjorie Skinner 03/04/2010
The Coast Halifax Alice in Wonderland a disappointing trip down the rabbit hole Tim Burton's latest is visually stunning, but missing emotional weight. by Mark Palermo 03/11/2010
Colorado Springs Independent No wonder "It seems that Tim Burton has turned Alice in Wonderland into a story about a 3D gay clown." by Jonathan Kiefer 03/04/2010
Colorado Springs Independent Opening this week Cop Out, The Crazies, The Last Station and more. 02/25/2010

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